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Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

Exams and Tests

The exams and tests that are used to diagnose pancreatic cancer may include:
  • Lab tests
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Ultrasound
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC)
  • Biopsy.
Lab Tests
Doctors may order lab tests on blood, urine, and stool samples to check for bilirubin and other substances. Bilirubin is a substance that passes from the liver to the gallbladder to the intestine. If the common bile duct is blocked by a tumor, the bilirubin cannot pass through normally; such a blockage may cause the level of bilirubin in the blood, stool, or urine to become very high. High bilirubin levels can result from cancer or from noncancerous conditions.
Computed Tomography (CT) Scan
Doctors may order a CT (computed tomography) scan, which involves the use of an x-ray machine that is linked to a computer that takes a series of detailed pictures.
The x-ray machine is shaped like a donut with a large hole. In order to have a CT scan, a patient will need to lie on a bed that passes through the hole. As the bed moves slowly through the hole, the machine will take a series of x-rays. The computer will then put the x-rays together to create pictures of the pancreas, and other organs and blood vessels in the abdomen.
The ultrasound device uses sound waves that cannot be heard by humans. The sound waves produce a pattern of echoes as they bounce off internal organs. The echoes will create a picture of the pancreas and other organs inside the abdomen. The echoes from tumors are different from echoes made by healthy tissues.
The ultrasound procedure may use an external device, an internal device, or both types of devices. The external device is called a transabdominal ultrasound; the internal device is called an endoscopic ultrasound.
A transabdominal ultrasound is used to make images of the pancreas. Doctors will place the ultrasound device on the abdomen and slowly move it around.
An endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) is used to make images of the pancreas and surrounding organs. Doctors will pass a thin, lighted tube (endoscope) through the patient's mouth and stomach, down into the first part of the small intestine toward the stomach. At the tip of the endoscope is an ultrasound device.
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