Five early warning signs of pancreatic cancer revealed

Five early warning signs of pancreatic cancer revealed after shock diagnosis of Countryfile star Adam Henson’s wife Charlie

  • Survival rates for pancreatic cancer are low because of how subtle the signs are
  • READ MORE: Analysis and charts: Cancer’s grim chokehold on Britain

Countryfile’s Adam Henson has revealed how he rushed to marry his wife following her pancreatic cancer diagnosis. 

The TV presenter, 57, said it felt like he had been ‘hit with a sledgehammer’ when Charlie, his partner of 28 years, was told she had the disease in August 2021. 

The couple, who had a relationship in sixth form before officially getting together in their twenties, walked down the aisle the following month as getting married ‘was suddenly really important’, Charlie, a location manager in the TV industry, said.

Charlie, who is one of the around 10,500 Brits who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year, is now in ‘ongoing recovery’ and has scans every six months following surgery to remove the tumour.

Crippling diarrhoea and dramatic weight loss were among the symptoms she suffered before being diagnosed. Here, MailOnline shares the warning signs of the ‘silent killer’.

Pancreatic cancer has been dubbed a ‘silent killer’ due to its subtle signs that are often only spotted too late

The Countryfile star, 57, has told how his wedding vows allowed him to ‘cement’ his emotions after Charlie (pictured in November 2019) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer


Jaundice, the yellowing of the skin and eyes, is one of the most common early symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

It’s caused by the build-up of bilirubin, a yellowish-brown substance made by the liver. The liver releases bile, a fluid meant to aid digestion, which contains bilirubin. 

In normal liver function, bile moves through ducts into the intestine and helps to break down fats. 

However, when bile ducts become blocked, bilirubin builds up, turning the skin and eyes yellow. 

READ MORE: Countryfile’s Adam Henson admits he and his wife Charlie ‘cried a lot’ at their wedding after her shock pancreatic cancer diagnosis

In pancreatic cancer, this can occur due to a tumour from the neighbouring pancreas pressing down on the bile duct.

Jaundice only occurs in some early pancreatic cancer patients due to the bile duct only becoming blocked if the tumour happens to grow on a certain part of the organ. 

Other signs of jaundice include dark urine, light-coloured or greasy stools and itchy skin. 

The yellowing of the skin that occurs in jaundice can be harder to spot for people with black or brown skin.

Stomach pain

Tumours that grow in certain parts of the pancreas can press on other organs and nerves in the body causing pain in the stomach area. 

Patients describe it as a ‘dull’ pain that feels like it is ‘boring into you’ with it typically appearing at the top part of the tummy area. 

This pain can also result if a tumour blocks the digestive tract. 

Pain may come and go at first but will become more constant as the disease progresses.

It can feel worse when lying down or after eating but may be alleviated by sitting forward. 

However, it should be noted that pain is only a potential symptom of pancreatic cancer.

Some patients, due to the precise location of their tumour, never experience pain at all. 

While the survival has improved for some types of cancer in recent decades, such as for breast and prostate, others, like lung and pancreas, have improved at a snail’s pace

10-year cancer survival rates for many common cancers have now reached above the 50 per cent mark. However, it remains around five per cent for pancreatic cancer

Back pain 

Pain may also radiate from the stomach to the back. 

This pain is generally persistent and is most often localised to the mid-back, or just below the shoulder blades. 

Like stomach pain, if this symptom occurs at all, it can depend on the specific location of tumour.

Some patients only have back pain and not stomach pain, again linked to the specific shape of their tumour and how it is pressing on other tissues.  

Sudden weight loss

READ MORE: How we’re winning the war against cancer: Survival rates for deadliest forms of disease have DOUBLED since the 1970s – as doctors say it is no longer always a ‘death sentence’

People with pancreatic cancer can suffer from unexplained weight loss.

This can occur due to problems with the pancreas, which helps digest food, itself and/or from people losing appetite due to other symptoms like pain. 

Cancers can also sap energy from the body as tumours grow which can also result in weight loss. 

People with unexplained weight loss in combination with other symptoms like pain or change in bowel habits are advised to speak to their GP. 

Floating stools  

Unusual changes in bowel movements could be a sign of pancreatic cancer.

This can take the form of either constipation or diarrhoea due to the general upset to the digestive process.

But a specific sign can be floating, pale and oily poo. 

Medically called steatorrhoea, these are frequent, large bowel movements that are pale coloured, smelly, float in the toilet bowl, and are difficult to flush away.

They are caused by fat that is normally absorbed by the body, instead being undigested and ending up in the stool.

This is caused by the pancreatic cancer disrupting the normal digestive process and limiting the amounts of pancreatic enzymes released in the intestines.

These enzymes help digest food, and a lack of them leads to problems as undigested food passes quickly through the digestive tract.

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