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.