Pancreatic cancer is sometimes referred to as a “silent disease” because early pancreatic cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms. As it grows, symptoms may include pain in the abdomen or upper back, jaundice, weakness, loss of appetite, and weight loss.

If a patient has symptoms of pancreatic cancer, a doctor may perform one or more of the following procedures:

Physical Exam - A doctor examines skin and eyes for signs of jaundice and feels the abdomen, looking for abnormalities near the pancreas, live and gallbladder. The doctor also checks for an abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen.

Lab Test - Samples of blood, urine and stool are checked for bilirubin. This substance passes from liver to gallbladder to small intestine, and if there is a tumor, it can’t pass through normally. If levels of bilirubin in the blood, urine or stool are high, it may suggest a blockage. This may be the result of noncancerous conditions or of cancer.

CT Scan - An x-ray machine takes detailed pictures of the pancreas and other organs and blood vessels in the abdomen.

Ultrasound - Sound waves and a computer are used to create a picture of the pancreas and other organs inside the abdomen, which can show a tumors and abnormalities.

ERCP (Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography) - An endoscope is passed through the mouth and stomach into the small intestine. A small tube is slipped through the endoscope and injects a dye into the bile and pancreatic ducts. X-rays show the dye and can help determine blockages, which may be caused by tumors.

PTC (Percutaneous Transhepatic Cholangiography) - A dye is injected into the liver and should move freely through bile ducts. The dye shows up on x-rays and can help determine blockages caused by tumors.

Biopsy - A pathologist looks at a sample of tissue from the pancreas under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

Helpful Questions to Ask Your Health Care Team About Diagnostic Procedures:

  • Why is this procedure being used?
  • What can I expect to happen during this procedure?
  • What should I do to prepare for this procedure?
  • What can I expect after the procedure?
  • What complications can occur with this procedure?
  • How does this procedure compare to other diagnostic options?
  • Where do I go for this procedure?

Once the results from the test or procedure are returned you will be able to make thoughtful decisions.

Please see Newly Diagnosed for information on being patient active, treatment decisions, partnering with your healthcare team and finding support.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is difficult. Please see Caregivers and/or Online Community for more information on how the Cancer Support Community can offer support.

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