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.
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
Information provided by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Inc. (“PanCAN”) is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or other health care services. PanCAN may provide information to you about physicians, products, services, clinical trials or treatments related to pancreatic cancer, but PanCAN does not recommend nor endorse any particular health care resource. In addition, please note that any personal information you provide to PanCAN’s associates during telephone and/or email communications may be stored and used to help PanCAN achieve its mission of assisting patients with, and finding cures and treatments for, pancreatic cancer. Stored constituent information may be used to inform PanCAN programs and activities. Information also may be provided in aggregate or limited formats to third parties to guide future pancreatic cancer research and treatment efforts. PanCAN will not provide personal directly identifying information (such as your name or contact information) to such third parties without your prior written consent unless required or permitted by law to do so.