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Pancreatic Cancer: Diagnosis and Staging

Diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer

A patient with pancreatic cancer symptoms—or a patient that has a mass or a dilated duct discovered in the pancreas—at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia may have one or more of the following procedures to diagnose pancreatic cancer and/or other gastrointestinal cancers:

  • Biopsy: A biopsy may be used to sample tissue from the pancreas. A pathologist will then examine the tissue in a laboratory and look for cancerous cells.
  • CT (Computed Tomography) Scan: This procedure uses x-rays and computer imaging to produce 3D pictures of the pancreas and surrounding organs. By analyzing these images, a doctor can view the organs and blood vessels in the abdomen in order to check for abnormal tissues that may be cancerous.
  • Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): ERCP is a technique that uses x-ray evaluation with the aid of an endoscope to facilitate the imaging of dyes that are injected into the ducts of the pancreas. The x-rays can show whether the ducts of the pancreas are narrowed or blocked due to a tumor or other condition.
  • Lab Tests: Blood, urine, and stool samples will allow doctors to check for levels of important substances like Bilirubin.  Analyzing the levels of specific substances can help determine if the substances are coming from cancerous or non-cancerous tissues.
  • Percutaneous Transhepatic Cholangiography (PTC): PTC uses the combination of a dye injection into the liver and x-ray imaging in order to see if the bile ducts allow passage of fluid or if they are blocked due to a tumor or other condition.
  • Physical Exam: A doctor will check the eyes and skin for signs of jaundice. In addition, the doctor will feel the abdomen around the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder to check for changes or an abnormal build-up of fluid.
  • Ultrasonography: Ultrasounds use sound waves to create images of organs and tissues. Sound waves create echoes as they bounce off the tissues in the abdomen. Echoes bounce differently depending on whether they contact healthy tissue or tumors.

The above diagnosis techniques are necessary to determine the stage of the cancer. By determining the stage of the cancer, a doctor can assess the treatment options based on how developed the cancer is.

Assessing the Signs of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is assessed using the T (Primary Tumor), N (Regional Lymph Nodes), or M (Distant Metastases) system.

Each letter assessment is accompanied by a number that designates the status of each of the categories: 0 signifies the absence of a tumor, and numbers I to IV signify levels of tumor growth from lowest to highest.

It is very important to determine the extent of the cancer growth to assess the possibility of surgical removal.

The categories are as follows:

  • Resectable
  • Borderline Resectable
  • Locally Advanced Unresectable
  • Disseminated

This evaluation system is based on what is seen on the images that are taken before surgery is performed and is used by the surgeon to judge the likelihood of success.

Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis and Symptoms Questions and Appointments

Contact us for more information about our pancreatic cancer treatment programs.