As Gianluca Vialli dies of pancreatic cancer at 58 – the 14 surprising signs you must not ignore

CHELSEA legend Gianluca Vialli has died at the age of 58 following a battle with cancer.

The former striker and manager, who played for Italy 59 times, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017.


Gianluca Vialli who played for Italy 59 times, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017.Credit: Reuters

The footballer was given the all-clear in April 2020, but was tragically e-diagnosed in 2021 and in December 2022 when he left the role with Italy’s national team to focus on his health.

Gianluca’s mother, 87, rushed to be by his side in a London hospital after his condition reportedly worsened at the end of December.

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of the cancer, is particularly hard to spot as it does not cause any signs or symptoms in the early stages.

The silent killer is the eleventh most common type of cancer in the UK and the sixth highest cause of cancer death.

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It has the lowest survival rate of any common cancer in the UK – with more than half of patients dying within three months of diagnosis.

The disease affects a large gland that is part of the digestive system – the pancreas is located behind the stomach and under the liver.

What are the symptoms?

Jeni Jones, a cancer specialist nurse from charity Pancreatic Cancer UK has outlined some of the symptoms that could be easy to dismiss as something less serious:

1. Indigestion

Indigestion, sometimes called heartburn, is a common symptom of pancreatic cancer, which can be very easily ignored or thought of as something else.

“A lot of the time people might just take over-the-counter remedies for persistent indigestion – it’s not something that will automatically see you running to the GP,” said Jeni.

“But there are times when it might line up with other symptoms like pain in your tummy or back, and with several niggling things happening, which could suggest pancreatic cancer.”

2. Tummy or back pain

Again, many of us experience tummy or back pain from time to time, but both – especially combined – are common symptoms of the disease, Jeni explained.

The tummy pain can be anything from a dull ache to a debilitating throbbing that travels to your back.

“It may be around your bra line if you’re a woman,” she said.

“It’s not lower back pain, and it’s often between the shoulder blades.

“It may be worse after you eat something, and it doesn’t tend to go away easily.”

3. Unexplained weight loss

Weight loss is a typical symptom of many cancers.

When connected to pancreatic cancer might initially be seen when people aren’t really trying to lose weight and are eating relatively normally.

It is first made obvious when clothes are getting loose, the nurse explained.

4. Appetite loss

Weight loss can often be related to appetite loss, which is another easily-ignored pancreatic cancer symptom.

“It can range from people thinking they’re not really that hungry, to having no appetite at all and not being able to face food or feeling full after very little food,” Jenni said.

5. Jaundice

If you notice your eyes or skin look yellow this is a sign of pancreatic cancer.

It’s called jaundice and is caused by the build-up of bilirubin – bile.

“Not everyone with pancreatic cancer will get jaundice, although it is very prevalent,” she said.

It only tends to occur in people whose tumour is towards the head of the pancreas, the cancer nurse explained.

6. Itchiness

Your skin might become incredibly itchy before you develop jaundice.

“[And] I’m not talking about a little itch, it would have you scratching to a crazy degree,” she said.

7. Changes to bowel habits

If your poo has changed a lot it could be a warning sign.

Pancreatic cancer patients often have specific bathroom problems, suffering with forms of diarrhoea or constipation.

“This is a very, very important one,” stressed Jeni.

“There are many, many causes of diarrhoea, but this is something we call steatorrhea – when there’s fat present in the stool, which makes it go a yellowy colour, which also happens in jaundice.”

It’s the type of poo that “doesn’t flush away” she added.

“If the patient doesn’t describe the specifics of their diarrhoea, it can waste time for diagnosis, and time is of the essence,” she said.

8. Recently diagnosed diabetes

If you have recently been diagnosed with diabetes, or are suddenly finding your usually well-controlled diabetes is less so, this is something to keep an eye on.

The nurse warned that a very small amount of people with recently diagnosed diabetes may have pancreatic cancer, because the cancer can stop the pancreas producing enough insulin, which can lead to diabetes. 

Research has shown onset of type 2 diabetes in people older than 50 could be an early sign of pancreatic cancer.

It’s especially likely in people with a low body mass index, who are losing weight and who don’t have family history of diabetes.

9. Nausea

Feeling or being sick can be another pancreatic cancer symptom.

“Sometimes people can vomit, but that’s not as common as feeling sick,” she explained.

10. Blood clots

Blood clots are actually an uncommon symptom of the cancer, for most.

“They might present with breathlessness or a swollen leg, and go for a scan and find out they’ve got pancreatic cancer,” she said.

“It’s exceptional, but clots are a symptom and could be leading to the fact that there’s an underlying problem.”

11. Fatigue

Feeling tired is a normal part of everyday life and can be a symptom of many things.

But in some cases, it can be a sign of pancreatic cancer, warned the cancer nurse.

“If you rest and can’t recharge your batteries, coupled with some of the other symptoms, like ongoing pain or steatorrhea, which drain a person physically, it could be another pancreatic cancer symptom,” she said.

12. Fever, shivering and feeling unwell

Although these symptoms are pretty rare in pancreatic cancer patients, they can be a sign of an infection linked to jaundice, which itself could be symptom of cancer, Jeni said.

An infection like this requires immediate medical attention, the nurse added.

13. Difficulty swallowing food

Although the cancer doesn’t actually cause problems with the oesophagus, it may just make swallowing feel abnormal.

“The cancer can make a person feel full up, so although they think the problem is to do with their swallowing, it’s often the fact they’re just not able to fit the food in,” said Jeni.

14. Depression and anxiety

Mental health issues are probably not something that would make you think you have pancreatic cancer.

But according to Jeni, depression and anxiety without any obvious cause is a common symptom of pancreatic cancer.

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“Low mood can go hand-in-hand with pain and fatigue.

“Again, it’s taking these things as a whole, rather than in isolation,” she said.

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