Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter

Tests for pancreatic cancer

Men and women discussing pancreatic cancer

This page has information about the tests and appointments you may have if your doctor thinks you may have cancer of the pancreas. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Tests for pancreatic cancer

You usually begin by seeing your GP, who will examine you and ask about your general health. Your doctor will look at your skin and eyes and may ask you to have a blood test and give a urine sample to check for signs of jaundice. They will ask you to lie down for a physical examination. The doctor can tell whether your abdomen is tender. It may be possible to feel a lump. Or your liver may feel enlarged. Afterwards your doctor may refer you to hospital for tests or to see a specialist.

At the hospital

The specialist will ask about your medical history and symptoms. They will then examine you by feeling your abdomen. You may have blood tests to check your general health. Then your specialist will arrange some other tests for you. These may include an ultrasound of your abdomen, a CT scan, MRI scan, endoscopic ultrasound, MRCP, laparoscopy and ERCP. You may go into hospital to have your tests. Or you may have them in the outpatient department.

What will all the tests show?

These tests might show that you are likely to have cancer of the pancreas. You may have a cyst or lump on your pancreas that may or may not be cancer. Your doctor may be almost certain that you do have cancer of the pancreas. But the only way to be absolutely sure is to either remove the whole lump or remove a piece of tissue from the suspicious area to check under the microscope for cancer cells. This is called a biopsy.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the diagnosing pancreatic cancer section.

 

 

Going to the GP

If you are concerned about your health, you usually begin by seeing your family doctor (GP), who will examine you and ask about your general health. Your doctor will look at your skin and eyes and may ask you to have blood tests and give a urine sample to check for signs of jaundice.

Your doctor will ask you to lie down for a physical examination. The doctor can tell whether your abdomen is tender. It may be possible to feel a lump. Or your liver may feel enlarged.

After your examination, your doctor may need to refer you to hospital for tests or to see a specialist.

 

At the hospital

The specialist will begin by asking you about your medical history and symptoms. They will then examine you by feeling your abdomen. You may have blood tests to check your general health. Then your specialist will arrange some other tests for you. You may go into hospital to have your tests. Or you may have them in the outpatient department.

 

Blood tests

As well as blood tests to investigate your general health, your doctor may test for cancer markers. Markers are chemical substances that can show up in the bloodstream in some types of cancer. There are 2 markers that some pancreatic cancers may produce - CEA and CA19-9. But both of these markers can show up in a variety of other conditions. And some people with cancer of the pancreas do not show these markers at all. So your doctor will use the blood test results alongside the results of your other tests to decide if you are likely to have pancreatic cancer.

 

Ultrasound scan

This is a scan using sound waves to look at your pancreas and liver. You are most likely to have this test if you have jaundice and the doctor is looking to see if there is a blockage to the bile ducts. We have more information about having an ultrasound.

 

CT Scan

This is a computerised scan using X-rays. You may have a CT scan of your abdomen (tummy). There is more about having a CT scan in the section about cancer tests.

 

Endoscopic ultrasound

This is an ultrasound scan done from inside the body. Your doctor may call it endoluminal ultrasound or by the initials EUS. The doctor puts a flexible tube called an endoscope down your throat. The endoscopy tube contains a small ultrasound probe. The ultrasound picture helps the doctor to see any areas that might be cancer. They can then guide a small needle into these areas to remove a sample of cells (a biopsy).

 

MRI scan

This is a scan using magnetic waves. You may have an MRI scan of your abdomen. There is more about having an MRI scan in the section about cancer tests.

 

ERCP test

ERCP stands for Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangio Pancreatography. You swallow a long flexible tube called an endoscope. It passes down into the first part of your small bowel (duodenum). The doctor injects dye which shows up on X-ray. It can show a narrowing or blockage of the bile or pancreatic ducts. The doctor can take samples of abnormal areas to send to the lab. This test is not used as often as endoscopic ultrasound to diagnose pancreatic cancer. You are more likely to have an ERCP if you need a tube (stent) put in to the bile duct to relieve jaundice.

We have detailed information about having an ERCP.

 

Type of MRI scan of the pancreas and bile ducts (MRCP)

MRCP is short for magnetic resonance cholangio pancreatography. It is a type of MRI scan. It uses a magnetic field and radio waves to give detailed pictures of your pancreas, bile ducts and liver. You usually cannot eat or drink for a few hours before having this test. You have to lie very still inside the MRI machine for up to 30 minutes. 

This test is useful for showing narrowing or blockages of the bile ducts or pancreatic duct. It is a less invasive test than an ERCP, but this means doctors cannot take samples of tissue if needed. MRCP isn't available in all hospitals.

 

Laparoscopy

A laparoscope is similar to an endoscope. It is a long tube with a light and camera attached. For this investigation, you are likely to have a short general anaesthetic. The test is done by making several small cuts (incisions) in your abdomen. The doctor puts the laparoscope through these incisions and examines you from the inside. Sometimes the doctor uses an ultrasound probe with the laparoscope. This is called laparoscopic ultrasound. The ultrasound helps the doctor to identify any suspicious looking areas and take a biopsy.

 

What the results may show

These tests might show that you are likely to have cancer of the pancreas. You may have a cyst or lump on your pancreas that may or may not be cancer. Your doctor may be almost certain that you do have cancer of the pancreas. But the only way to be absolutely sure is to either remove the whole lump or a piece of tissue from the area to check under the microscope for cancer cells.

Rate this page:
Submit rating

 

Rated 4 out of 5 based on 29 votes
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team

No Error

Updated: 15 October 2014