Image-producing diagnostic tests include:
Computed Tomography (CT) Scan. A CT scan (or CAT scan) is a painless procedure, during which the patient lies on a table that moves their body through an x-ray machine, which is attached to a computer. The machine takes multiple x-rays of the area around the pancreas, and produces a series of images that show the abdominal organs and tissues from different angles. Usually, before a CT scan, the patient will have to swallow or be injected with a contrast dye that helps make the images appear more distinctly.
Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan. A PET scan is similar to a CAT scan in that the patient lies down on a table and their body is moved through a machine, with no pain involved. With a pet scan, the patient will first receive an injection of a radiotracer, very small dose of radioactive glucose (sugar), which will enable the PET scan machine to “see” tumor cells in the body more clearly.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Like a CT or PET scan, an MRI requires the patient to lie on a table that is moved through a machine that is attached to a computer on which images of the patient’s internal organs will appear. MRI uses radio waves, rather than x-rays or positron emissions, to create images. MRI normally requires the use of a contrast dye, like a CT scan.
Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatoography (ECRP). This is a procedure that uses an endoscope, a narrow tube that is inserted into the body through the mouth, and then down through the esophagus into the stomach and small intestine. An even smaller tube, a catheter, is inserted through the endoscope. The catheter releases a contrast dye into the ducts of the pancreas, allowing x-rays to be taken of the pancreatic ducts. A tissue sample may also be extracted during this procedure, so that a biopsy may be performed.
Percutaneous Transhepatic Cholangiography (PTC). In this procedure, contrast dye is injected directly into the liver via a thin needle, and then x-rays are taken. The x-rays will reveal whether the bile ducts of the liver and pancreas are obstructed by tumor cells.
Ultrasound. Ultrasound technology uses sound waves that produce images as they bounce off of internal organs. Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) employs an endoscope that is inserted into the stomach, as with ECRP. But instead of injecting a contrast dye, the endoscope delivers an ultrasound device that sends high-energy sound waves throughout the abdominal area.
In a different type of ultrasound procedure, known as transabdominal ultrasound, nothing is inserted into the body. The doctor uses an external ultrasound device, which is moved slowly around the skin of the abdomen.
Cleveland Clinic. 2010. “PET Scan.” (Online) http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/petscan/hicpet_scan.aspx
National Cancer Institute, U.S. National Institutes of Health. 2009. “Pancreatic Cancer Treatment.” (Online) http://nci.nih.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/pancreatic/Patient/page1
National Institutes of Health. 2001. “What You Need to Know About Cancers of the Pancreas.” (Online booklet) http://nci.nih.gov/pdf/WYNTK/WYNTK_pancreas.pdf
Mayo Clinic Staff. 2010. “Pancreatic Cancer: Tests and Diagnosis.” (Online) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pancreatic-cancer/DS00357/DSECTION=tests-and-diagnosis
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