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Endoscopic ultrasound

This test combines an ultrasound and endoscopy to look at your food pipe, stomach, pancreas and nearby lymph nodes.

An endoscopy is a test to look inside your body. Your doctor uses a long flexible tube (endoscope) with a tiny camera and light on the end. They put this into your mouth and down into your stomach. They attach an ultrasound probe to the endoscope. The probe uses high frequency sound waves to create a picture of the inside of your body.

Diagram of an endoscopy

Why you might have it

You might have this test to find out if you have pancreatic cancer. Or you might have it to see how big the cancer is and whether it has spread.

Preparing for your test

You might have a blood test 2 days beforehand to check how well your blood clots.

Tell your doctor if you're taking medicine that changes how your blood clots. This includes:

  • aspirin
  • clopidogrel
  • arthritis medicines
  • warfarin or heparin
  • apixaban or rivaroxaban

Your doctor tells you if you need to stop taking any other medicines.

You can't eat for 6 to 8 hours before the test but you might be able to drink sips of water up to 2 hours before your appointment. Your doctor or nurse gives you written instructions about this beforehand.

Talk to your doctor if not eating could be a problem for you. For example, if you have diabetes.

Your doctor will explain what they are going to do and you’ll sign a consent form. This is a good time to ask any questions you might have.

How you have it

Usually you have an endoscopy in hospital as an outpatient. A doctor or a specialist nurse (endoscopist) does the test. A nurse stays with you when you have it. The test usually takes less than 30 minutes.

When you arrive at the clinic, the staff might ask you to take your upper clothing off and put on a hospital gown. 

You might have the test while you're awake but you can choose to have a medicine to make you drowsy (a sedative).

Your endoscopist may spray the back of your throat with local anaesthetic to numb it. You then lie down on the couch.

They put the endoscope into your mouth and pass it down your throat. They ask you to swallow as the tube goes down. They put a small amount of air into the tube to help them see your food pipe (oesophagus), stomach and first part of your bowel. The ultrasound gives detailed pictures of the surrounding areas such as the pancreas, bile ducts and nearby lymph nodes. Open a glossary item

Your endoscopist may take samples of any abnormal looking areas. They send these to the laboratory to be looked at closely under a microscope. 

Your endoscopist gently removes the tube at the end of the test.

After your endoscopy

You need to rest for a while after the test.

You can't eat or drink for about an hour, until the local anaesthetic throat spray wears off. You might not remember much about the test if you have had a sedative drug.

You should be able to go home the same day. You can't drive or drink alcohol for 24 hours after having a sedative. You need someone to take you home from hospital and stay with you during this time.

Getting your results

You should get your results within 2 weeks. The results are sent to you and your GP or you may get them at a follow up appointment. 

Waiting for test results can be a very worrying time. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse who you can contact for information if you need to. It can help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

You can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 for information and support. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Contact the doctor who arranged the test if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

Possible risks

This is usually a safe procedure but your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems afterwards. Your doctors will make sure the benefits outweigh the possible risks.

Risks include:

  • bloating and discomfort lasting a few hours
  • a sore throat that can last for up to 24 hours - contact the hospital if you have severe pain in your throat, chest or tummy (abdomen)
  • fluid going into your lungs from your mouth - this is a small risk if you have a sedative but your nurse removes most of the secretions from your mouth during the test to reduce this risk
  • a reaction to the sedative causing breathing difficulties - your nurse checks your oxygen levels during the test and you'll have oxygen through a tube that fits into your nose (nasal cannulae)
  • a very small chance of the endoscope causing a tear in the lining of your oesophagus, stomach or small bowel. You might need an operation to repair this.
  • inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)