Pancreatic cancer can cause back pain that spreads from the abdomen. It often affects the middle of the back and may feel like a dull ache. For some people, the pain may come and go.

Pancreatic cancer causes different symptoms, including back pain. Back pain can have many possible causes, so recognizing and reporting pancreatic cancer symptoms to a medical professional is necessary for an accurate diagnosis.

Read on to learn more about pancreatic cancer and back pain. This article looks at what the pain can feel like, how to manage back pain, other symptoms of pancreatic cancer to look out for, and more.

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Back pain is a common symptom of pancreatic cancer.

The pancreas consists of four parts:

  • a wide section called the head
  • a short connecting section called the neck
  • a larger section called the body
  • a smaller part known as the tail

Tumors that start to grow in the body and tail of the pancreas can become quite large, pushing against other organs. This can cause pain in the abdomen or back.

Cancer can also spread to the nerves around the pancreas, which can also cause back pain.

Learn more about what can cause back pain.

Pancreatic cancer back pain can develop in the middle of the back.

According to Cancer Research UK, people commonly describe this pain as a dull or gnawing ache.

Often, the pain may feel like it starts in the abdomen and moves toward the back.

A person may also feel pain underneath their upper back near the shoulder blades or in the shoulders.

Learn more about pain in the middle of the back.

Back pain due to pancreatic cancer may come and go, particularly in the cancer’s early stages.

It might become more intense after lying down or eating a meal. Pancreatic cancer back pain may feel better if a person sits forward.

Learn about the stages of pancreatic cancer.

Numerous treatments can help manage pancreatic cancer back pain.

Non-opioid and opioid medications

Treatments are available to reduce the pain of pancreatic cancer. People may take non-opioid pain medications, including:

  • acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • aspirin

If this is unsuccessful in relieving the discomfort, a doctor might prescribe opioid medications, including:

  • fentanyl (Duragesic)
  • morphine (Oramorph, MS Contin)
  • oxycodone (OxyContin, Roxicodone)

For most people who treat cancer pain with opioids, the drugs do not lead to misuse, but they may cause temporary fogginess and fatigue.

Celiac plexus block

A doctor can inject a treatment, known as a celiac plexus block, directly into the area. This can help reduce the sensitivity of nerves around the abdomen and lower back to block the feeling of pain.

Other treatments

Complementary therapies may also help reduce pain along with conventional treatments and pain-relief drugs. These might include:

  • acupuncture
  • hot or cold compresses
  • hypnosis
  • massage
  • meditation
  • physical therapy
  • relaxation

It is important to contact a doctor for advice before trying any complementary therapies.

Cancer treatments

A doctor might recommend surgery or radiation therapy to shrink the tumor and relieve pressure on the nerves. This can help reduce pain.

A doctor can advise a person on what treatments they recommend for pancreatic cancer.

Other signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer can include:

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • jaundice
  • dark urine
  • itchy skin
  • weight loss
  • a reduced appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • liver or gallbladder swelling
  • blood clots
  • diabetes

People who experience back pain along with these symptoms should contact a doctor. Many of these symptoms are not specific to pancreatic cancer and can point to several different health conditions. Only testing with a biopsy can confirm a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

Learn more about how doctors test for and diagnose pancreatic cancer.

View our pancreatic cancer overview article for more information about the condition. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about pancreatic cancer.

What are the symptoms of late stage pancreatic cancer?

Advanced or late stage pancreatic cancer can cause symptoms, such as tiredness, unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, fluid buildup around the abdomen, and jaundice.

How long does it take for pancreatic cancer to go from stage 1 to stage 4?

According to a 2015 article, the average time that pancreatic cancer takes to progress from stage 1 to stage 4 is about 1 year. However, this will be different for each individual.

How do I know if I have pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer?

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer are usually vague and slow to develop. However, pancreatitis causes sudden, severe pain in the center of the abdomen, sickness, and a high fever. It is important to contact a doctor as soon as a person has concerns about either pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer can cause back pain due to pressure from the tumor on nearby nerves or organs. The pain may present as a dull ache and feel like it is spreading from the abdomen.

The back pain may feel better when sitting forward but worse when lying down or after eating.

Opioid and non-opioid pain-relief medications can help relieve pancreatic cancer back pain. Doctors may also recommend nerve-blocking injections.

There are many possible causes of pancreatic cancer. It is best to contact a doctor once a person has concerns about back pain, so they can receive an accurate diagnosis and begin any necessary treatment as early as possible.