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How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?

Because early pancreatic cancer causes very few symptoms and symptoms can be attributed to more benign digestive disorders, it often goes undiagnosed until it has spread to nearby tissues or organs through the bloodstream or lymphatic


The first step in diagnosing pancreatic cancer is a thorough medical history and a complete physical examination. The doctor will inquire about the severity of the pain, how long it has been present, its location, etc. A physical examination will be conducted to check for fluid accumulation, or any lumps, or masses, in the abdomen. The skin and the whites of the eyes will be checked for jaundice. Blood tests will be performed to rule out the possibility of liver diseases that can also contribute to jaundice.

Imaging tests such as CT scans, MRI imaging, or ultrasonography may be ordered in order to get a detailed picture of the internal organs. This will also help to check whether the cancer has spread to other organs beyond the pancreas.

The doctor may perform a test known as ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography), where a long thin tube is passed down the patient's throat and food pipe (through an endoscope and under endoscopic guidance) into the stomach. This enables the doctor to check for any blockage of the pancreatic ducts that may be due to cancer. The doctor can also place a small brush in the tube and collect some cells from the pancreas. These can then be examined microscopically, and any cancerous cells, if existing, can be detected.

The most definitive test for pancreatic cancer is a biopsy, where a sample of the tumor is removed and examined microscopically.

More information on pancreatic cancer

What is pancreatic cancer? - Pancreatic cancer is an abnormal, uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas, which is a digestive gland located behind the stomach.
What causes pancreatic cancer? - Pancreatic cancers can arise from both the exocrine and endocrine portions of the pancreas. Smoking is regarded as the single greatest risk factor for pancreatic cancer.
What're the risk factors for pancreatic cancer? - Risk factors including smoking and diets rich in red meat and fat increase the susceptibility to this particular cancer.
What're the symptoms of pancreatic cancer? - Abdominal pain is generally a sign that the pancreatic cancer has spread to the surrounding area and the tumor is pressing down on the nerves.
How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed? - The first step in diagnosing pancreatic cancer is a thorough medical history and a complete physical examination.
What's the treatment for pancreatic cancer? - The main treatments for pancreatic cancer are surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
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All information is intended for reference only. Please consult your physician for accurate medical advices and treatment. Copyright 2005,, all rights reserved. Last update: July 18, 2005