New Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms and a Life Saving Message from Maria Menounos 

by | Nov 17, 2023 | Pancreatic Cancer, Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms, Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

Maria: “For at least a year and a half or so, I looked like I swallowed a basketball.”

The reason many patients with pancreatic cancer don’t survive is it’s often caught too late. The reason for that is, many times patients have no symptoms until it’s too late, or the symptoms can easily be explained away or passed off as something else. Plus people aren’t aware of what the symptoms can be, including newer named symptoms.

Knowing what the all the potential symptoms of pancreatic cancer are, being persistent about getting tests that can detect it, including scans can be life saving.

Unfortunately many doctors pass off the symptoms as something else, something less serious like gastrointestinal upset. That can be a fatal mistake, so learn the symptoms, pay close attention to your body, seek out medical help if you think something is wrong, and don’t give up, don’t take no for an answer. 

That’s the message Maria Menounos is spreading, hoping it will save lives.  

Here’s the rest of her story about pancreatic cancer symptoms she had, which we’re just now hearing about and her message to the world.

Maria Menounos predicted there was something wrong with her pancreas during an episode of her podcast months before her pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

“For at least a year and a half or so, I looked like I swallowed a basketball,” 

“I really encourage anybody who’s having any consistent pain or symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, gas or constipation to look deeper,” Menounos previously told “A lot of people just want to shush their bodies and go back to work and go back to life and pretend it’s not happening. I’ve been there.”

Menounos said she was in disbelief when she learned she had diabetes in June 2022. “First thing I (said) is, ‘I don’t have this.’ … At 43 years old or whatever … there’s no reason for me to get Type 1 diabetes.” (Research shows new onset of diabetes, especially in patients over 50, can be a sign of pancreatic cancer.)

In the fall of 2022, Menounos’ symptoms worsened significantly.

“I started having these weird abdominal pains that were super strong. I was on a plane and I thought I was going to die,” she told Hoda, adding that she chalked it up to a gluten sensitivity from a farro salad she was eating at the time.

The 45-year-old television personality was diagnosed with a rare type of pancreatic cancer, a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor, in January 2023 and had it removed the following month.

After she went public with her cancer journey, “I had a viewer reach out to me and say, you predicted this last April (2022) on your show. I went back … and I did,” Menounos told TODAY co-anchor Hoda Kotb during a new episode of Hoda’s podcast, “Making Space.”

Leading up to her pancreatic cancer diagnosis, Menounos said she had sensed something was wrong for many months and discussed it on her own podcast, “Heal Squad.”

“For at least a year and a half or so, I looked like I swallowed a basketball,” she recalled to Hoda. “I’ve been on fitness covers my whole career, flat washboard abs. Never had that. What’s going on?”

Menounos said she was tested for celiac disease but got no answers.

“In March 2022, I had an endoscopy and colonoscopy, trying to get to the root of what’s happening. … (They) didn’t find the source. That was it,” said Menounos. “I go, wait guys, the investigation doesn’t stop. We’re still trying to figure out what’s happening.”

“I kept taking pictures of (my bloating) because I was trying to eliminate things from (my) diet to see if there was a difference,” she continued. “I said, something’s wrong, and I’m going to keep investigating until I find it.”

The next month, April 2022, the “Heal Squad” episode that the viewer pointed out aired. It was focused on how to better tune into your body, and Menounos shared with listeners that she was struck by the idea that her pancreas was the source of the problem.

“(I said), ‘I think something’s wrong with my pancreas,” which was followed by “a whole discussion about the pancreas,” she told Hoda about the episode. “So random. And that was two months before I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.”

In November of 2022, the excruciating abdominal pains came back, this time coupled with diarrhea, which lasted for a month, Menounos previously told the Today Show.

“I can’t lay down, I can’t sit up — I go to the hospital and they do a CT scan,” she said.

In addition to a CT scan, Menounos got stool and blood tests, all of which had “unremarkable” results. “They said everything’s fine,” but the abdominal pain persisted, said Menounos.

Finally, in December 2022, Menounos got a full-body MRI, which revealed a mass on her pancreas. A biopsy confirmed it was a stage 2 pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor — a rare and less aggressive type of pancreatic cancer.

Menounos said she thought she was a “goner” upon hearing her diagnosis, but she was successfully treated with surgery. In addition to the tumor, doctors removed part of her pancreas, her spleen, a fibroid and 17 lymph nodes.

The new mom told Hoda that she is officially cancer-free. In June, Menounos and husband Keven Undergaro welcomed their first child together via surrogate, a baby girl named Athena.

Symptoms of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor

The symptoms of Menounos’ type of cancer vary depending on the type of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor and the hormones it produces, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Signs may include:

  • Acid reflux
  • Burning abdominal pain
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (bloating, constipation, diarrhea, etc.)
  • Jaundice or a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes

The most common type of pancreatic cancer, adenocarcinoma, usually doesn’t have symptoms in early stages, but they may include also abdominal pain and jaundice, back pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, dark urine, light-colored stools, and itchy skin, per the National Cancer Institute.

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month — to help spread awareness, Menounos teamed up with PanCAN to star in a public service announcement about the importance of early detection.

“I really encourage anybody who’s having any consistent pain or symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, gas or constipation to look deeper,” Menounos previously told “A lot of people just want to shush their bodies and go back to work and go back to life and pretend it’s not happening. I’ve been there.”

Menounos wants others to listen to their bodies and advocate for their health, too. “I have learned that we have to be the CEO of our health. We have to use our own internal guidance, we have to do our own homework, we have to push,” she told Hoda.

“You can’t just listen to somebody else tell you what’s happening in your body,” she added. “If the pain persists … you have to keep fighting.”

Written by: Caroline Kee a health reporter at TODAY.

Pancreatic cancer used to be a death sentence, but not so much anymore.

Patients have treatment options which include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a mix of these.

CyberKnife therapy has been used successfully to treat pancreatic cancer in patients who are poor surgical candidates, those who refuse surgery, and in patients for whom surgery or other treatments have failed.

Treating tumors in and near the pancreas with radiation is challenging because the stomach, bowel, kidneys, and liver are in close proximity to the pancreas, making it difficult to target them safely with radiation. As a result, with traditional radiation therapy, the tumor may not receive enough radiation to destroy it, and healthy tissue near the tumor may be damaged.

CyberKnife’s missile guidance technology and respiratory tracking system eliminates that problem. It enables the radiation beam to track tumor movement in real time as patients breathe normally, always staying on target, delivering the highest dose of radiation possible, and destroying the tumor without harming healthy surrounding tissue.

Another bonus: CyberKnife only requires one to five treatments compared to over 25 to 35 with standard radiation.

The treatment is completely pain free. You feel nothing as the computer-controlled robot moves around the body delivering radiation. Patients dress comfortably in their own clothes and can bring music to listen to during treatment.

Nothing will be required of the patient during treatment, except to relax and lie as still as possible.

Once treatment is complete, most patients quickly return to their daily routines with little interruption to their normal activities.

Early results indicate that patients tolerate the CyberKnife procedure well. 

Doctors will discuss all possible side effects prior to treatment. In addition, doctors may prescribe medication to control any side effects, should they occur.

After treatment, the patient will follow-up with their doctor and will have CT or PET/CT scan prior to your follow-up appointment.

The patient should be aware that his or her tumor will not suddenly disappear. Response to treatment varies from patient to patient. It could take several weeks or longer to determine the effectiveness of the CyberKnife treatment.

The types of treatment for pancreatic cancer will depend on the stage of the disease. CyberKnife radiotherapy is also often combined with chemotherapy.

Studies show the growth of pancreatic tumors in patients with advanced disease has been controlled by CyberKnife radiosurgery without damaging normal tissues including bowels, kidneys, and liver.

If you have pancreatic cancer, it’s important to know your treatment options. CyberKnife treatment should always be considered.

To find out if you are a candidate for it, call the most experienced CyberKnife treatment team in Miami at 305-279-2900. They will walk you through all your options and let you know what is best for you, whether that is CyberKnife or not. We put patients first and give them the best odds of beating their cancer.