Pancreatic cancer, dubbed the “silent killer” because of its subtle symptoms, has claimed the life of The Smiths bassist Andy Rourke.
His former bandmate Johnny Marr announced the tragic news this morning on Twitter, describing Rourke, aged 59, as an “extremely gifted musician.”
Along with drummer Mike Joyce, Rourke provided a pounding and melodic rhythm section that underpinned Marr’s pioneering chords as the Smiths became one of Britain’s most influential bands in the 1980s.
Pancreatic cancer kills nearly 10,000 Britons a year, and only 5 per cent of people who get the disease live into the next decade.
While survival rates for most cancers have improved over the years thanks to medical advances, pancreatic cancer has changed little since the 1970s.
This is partly due to how easy it is to miss early signs of the disease, meaning it may not be noticed until later, more deadly stages.
Here MailOnline reveals some of the early warning signs of pancreatic cancer:
Pancreatic cancer has been called a “silent killer” because of the subtle signs that are often not noticed until too late
Smiths guitarist Andy Rourke has died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 59
Jaundice, the yellowing of the skin and eyes, is one of the most common early symptoms of pancreatic cancer.
It is caused by the buildup of bilirubin, a yellow-brown substance produced by the liver. The liver releases bile, a fluid intended to aid digestion that contains bilirubin.
In normal liver function, bile moves through ducts to the intestine and helps to break down fats.
However, when the bile ducts become blocked, bilirubin builds up, causing the skin and eyes to turn yellow.
In pancreatic cancer, this can occur because a tumor of the neighboring pancreas presses on the bile duct.
Jaundice only occurs in some patients with early-stage pancreatic cancer because the bile ducts become blocked only when the tumor grows on a specific part of the organ.
Other signs of jaundice include dark urine, light-colored or greasy stools, and itchy skin.
The yellowing of the skin that occurs with jaundice may be more difficult to spot for people with black or brown skin.
Tumors that grow in certain parts of the pancreas can press on other organs and nerves in the body and cause pain in the stomach area.
Patients describe it as a “dull” pain that feels like it is “dull inside you” and usually appears in the upper abdominal area.
This pain can also occur if a tumor blocks the digestive tract.
Pain may come and go at first, but will become more constant as the disease progresses.
It may feel worse when you lie down or after eating, but it can be relieved by sitting forward.
However, it should be noted that pain is only one possible symptom of pancreatic cancer.
Some patients, due to the precise location of their tumor, never experience pain.
The 10-year survival rate for common cancers is now above 50 percent, and experts say further improvements could be made in the next decade
While the level of progress for cancer survival has been rapid for some forms of the disease, such as for breast and prostate cancer, others, such as those for lung and pancreas, have improved only at a snail’s pace
Pain can also radiate from the abdomen to the back.
This pain is generally persistent and is usually located in the middle of the back or just below the shoulder blades.
As with stomach pain, whether or not this symptom occurs may depend on the specific location of the tumor.
Some patients have only back pain and no abdominal pain, again linked to the specific shape of their tumor and how it presses on other tissues.
Sudden weight loss
People with pancreatic cancer may experience unexplained weight loss.
This can be due to problems with the pancreas, which helps digest food, itself and/or from people losing their appetite due to other symptoms such as pain.
Cancers can also drain energy from the body as tumors grow, which can also lead to weight loss.
People with unexplained weight loss combined with other symptoms such as pain or change in bowel habits are advised to speak to their GP.
Unusual changes in bowel habits can be a sign of pancreatic cancer.
This can take the form of constipation or diarrhea due to the general disruption of the digestive process.
But a specific sign can be floating, pale and oily poop.
Medically, steatorrhoea theses are frequent, large bowel movements that are pale in color, smelly, float in the toilet bowl, and are difficult to flush out.
They are caused by fat, which is normally absorbed by the body, but is undigested and passed in the stool.
This is caused by the pancreatic cancer interfering with the normal digestive process and limiting the amounts of pancreatic enzymes released into the intestines.
These enzymes help digest food, and a lack of them leads to problems because undigested food passes quickly through the digestive tract.