Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer

Explore advanced pancreatic cancer treatment options available in China.

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Pancreatic cancer is a malignancy that develops in the tissues of the pancreas, an organ crucial for digestion and blood sugar regulation. Timely diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is vital due to its aggressive nature and tendency to spread rapidly. Early detection enables healthcare professionals to initiate treatment promptly, potentially improving the effectiveness of therapies and patient outcomes. Moreover, diagnosing pancreatic cancer at an earlier stage may offer patients more treatment options, including surgical resection, which can significantly impact their prognosis and quality of life. Thus, emphasis on the importance of timely diagnosis underscores the need for increased awareness, screening programs for high-risk individuals, and advancements in diagnostic techniques to enhance early detection rates.

Tests used to diagnose pancreatic cancer include:

  • Imaging tests. Imaging tests take pictures that show the inside of the body. Imaging tests used to diagnose pancreatic cancer include ultrasound, CT scans, MRI scans and, sometimes, positron emission tomography scans, also called PET scans.
  • A scope with ultrasound. Endoscopic ultrasound, also called EUS, is a test to make pictures of the digestive tract and nearby organs and tissues. EUS uses a long, thin tube with a camera, called an endoscope. The endoscope passes down the throat and into the stomach. An ultrasound device on the endoscope uses sound waves to create images of nearby tissues. It can be used to make pictures of the pancreas.
  • Removing a tissue sample for testing. A biopsy is a procedure to remove a small sample of tissue for testing in a lab. Most often, a health professional gets the sample during EUS. During EUS, special tools are passed through the endoscope to take some tissue from the pancreas. Less often, a sample of tissue is collected from the pancreas by inserting a needle through the skin and into the pancreas. This is called fine-needle aspiration.

    The sample goes to the lab for testing to see if its cancer. Other specialized tests can show what DNA changes are present in the cancer cells. The results help your health care team create your treatment plan.

  • Blood tests. Blood tests might show proteins called tumor markers that pancreatic cancer cells make. One tumor marker test used in pancreatic cancer is called CA19-9. Doctors often repeat this test during and after treatment to understand how the cancer is responding. Some pancreatic cancers don’t make extra CA19-9, so this test isn’t helpful for everyone.
  • Genetic testing. If you’re diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, talk with your health care team about genetic testing. Genetic testing uses a sample of blood or saliva to look for inherited DNA changes that increase the risk of cancer. Results of genetic testing might help guide your treatment. The results also can show whether family members might have an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.

Staging

After confirming a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, your health care team works to find the extent of the cancer. This is called the stage of the cancer. Your health care team uses your cancer’s stage to understand your prognosis and create a treatment plan.

The stages of pancreatic cancer use the numbers 0 to 4. In the lowest stages, the cancer is only in the pancreas. As the cancer grows, the stage increases. By stage 4, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

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