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Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

Written by wordsmith, ritasharma, Gary Wu.

Pancreatic cancer may be diagnosed in the following types of ways.

(Many of these procedures are also done for the purpose of staging, or measuring how far advanced the pancreatic cancer is after it has been diagnosed.)

Physical examination of the skin and the abdomen in the area of the pancreas. This includes checking for abnormal lumps, which may indicate a buildup of fluid, or ascites, which can result from the spread of cancer cells into the lymph nodes and stomach lining.

Image-Producing Procedures. There are several diagnostic tests that produce images of the pancreas and surrounding organs to detect cancer.

Laparoscopy. A laparascope is a very thin lighted tube that is inserted into the abdomen via small incisions. The laparascope carries a tiny video camera that conveys images of internal organs to a computer screen. These images are examined by a doctor.

Biopsy. Taking a biopsy means removing tissue from the pancreas (or other organ) for examination in the lab under a microscope to check for cancer. Cells and tissues can be removed from the pancreas in a number of ways, including using an endoscope as in ECRP or EUS (see Diagnostic procedures that produce images of the pancreas), inserting a needle into the pancreas, during laparoscopy, or through open abdominal surgery.

Laboratory tests, including blood, urine, and stool analysis. High levels of a substance called bilirubin in the blood, urine, or stool may indicate cancer. The presence in the blood of a protein known as CA19-9 may be a marker for pancreatic cancer, though this is not considered conclusive.

In early 2010, findings of a research study were released at the 2010 Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium, which indicate that a protein known as PAM4 could be a very early marker for pancreatic cancer. PAM4 can be detected through a new type of blood test, which might be an effective way to screen for pancreatic cancer in people who are at high risk for the disease. This is a very hopeful development, because it signifies that the cancer could be caught and treated early, which would lead to more favorable outcomes and higher life expectancy.


Mayo Clinic Staff. 2010. “Pancreatic Cancer: Tests and Diagnosis.” (Online)

Laino, Charlene. WebMD Health News. 2010. “Pancreatic Cancer Detected by Blood Test.” (Online)

National Cancer Institute, U.S. National Institutes of Health. 2009. “Pancreatic Cancer Treatment.” (Online)

A.P. John Institute for Cancer Research. 2009. “Pancreatic Cancer.” (Online)

National Institutes of Health. 2001. “What You Need to Know About Cancers of the Pancreas.” (Online booklet) 2010. “Confronting Pancreatic Cancer.” (Online)

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