Diagnosing pancreatic cancer can be difficultfor several reasons.  First, the pancreas is located deep in the abdomen between the stomach and the back, so it is difficult for a doctor to see or feel the tumor during a physical exam.  Additionally, the symptoms of pancreatic cancer are not always obvious and usually develop gradually.  If a person has symptoms that suggest pancreatic cancer, a variety of tests may be performed to make an accurate diagnosis.  However, there is no standard diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer, which further complicates the diagnosing process.

Generally, the doctor will begin by asking about medical and family history and will perform a physical exam.  The doctor will examine the patient’s body, including skin and eyes, and press on the abdomen to check for changes in the area near the pancreas, liver and gallbladder.  Blood, urine and stool tests may be ordered. A pancreatic tumor can only be seen on an imaging study such as a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Below are some of the tests used to diagnose and monitor people with pancreatic cancer.

Blood tests

Carcinoembryonic Antigen

Computed Tomography (CT)
Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS)
Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
Questions to Ask the Gastroenterologist or GI Endoscopist
Early detection

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