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Pancreatic Cancer

Making a Diagnosis

Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect and diagnose for the following reasons:
  • There are usually no noticeable signs or symptoms of the disease in the early stages of pancreatic cancer
  • The signs of pancreatic cancer, when present, are similar to those of many other illnesses
  • The pancreas is hidden behind other organs (such as the stomach, small intestine, liver, gallbladder, spleen, and bile ducts).
If a person has possible symptoms of pancreatic cancer, doctors will typically need to perform a physical exam, ask about the patient's personal and family medical history, and recommend additional tests and procedures. This will help the doctor to make a diagnosis.
Exams and tests used to make a pancreatic cancer diagnosis may include:
  • Lab tests
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Ultrasound
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC)
  • Biopsy.
After the doctor makes a diagnosis, he or she will need to know the stage, or extent, of the disease in order to plan the best treatment. Pancreatic cancer staging is a careful attempt to find out the size of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread, and if so, to what parts of the body.
(Click Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis for more information.)


Tests and procedures that are used to stage pancreatic cancer are usually done at the same time as a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
Specific stages of pancreatic cancer include:
  • Stage 0 (carcinoma in situ)
  • Stage I
  • Stage II
  • Stage III
  • Stage IV
  • Recurrent.
(Click Stages of Pancreatic Cancer for more information.)
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