21 Signs And Symptoms Of Pancreatic Cancer

6. Foul-Smelling, Oily Stool (Steatorrhea)


The presence of too much fat in your stool is called steatorrhea. It can be a sign of malabsorption, which signals that the body either isn’t absorbing nutrients from your diet properly or isn’t producing the enzymes or bile needed to break down food effectively. Pancreatic cancer causes the latter, due to the impairment of its exocrine function as well as the impingement of the common bile duct as a result of tumor growth.

Pancreatic cancer causes the pancreas to fail any of two ways, one of which is when the exocrine glands of the pancreas become affected. When this happens, the production and secretion of digestive enzymes such as lipase, substances that help breakdown fat from food, decreases, leading to poor absorption of fat from the diet. The excess fat thus remains in the gut, and is later excreted in large amounts via the stool, leading to the condition known as steatorrhea.

Pancreatic cancer also prevents bile, which is a substance containing bile acids critical for digestion and absorption of fat and fat-soluble vitamins in the gut. As the pancreatic tumor grows, it presses on and impinges the common bile duct (the passageway of bile), causing blockage, preventing it from being released into the gut leading to an impairment in the digestion of fat in the intestines. When this happens, an excess amount of fat is excreted with stool, leading again to steatorrhea.