How We Diagnose and Stage Pancreatic Cancer

Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer
A timely and accurate detection of pancreatic cancer is essential to planning the best course of treatment. In addition to a routine physical examination and blood tests, City of Hope doctors may also use the following tests to diagnose pancreatic cancer:
  • 3D computed tomography (CT) scan: Using advanced imaging technology and specialized techniques, radiologists at City of Hope can obtain highly clear and precise images of the pancreas. This allows the care team to better detect and locate tumors with minimal impact on surrounding normal tissues.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancratography (ERCP): A technique that uses a thin, flexible tube with a camera attached (endoscope). The tube is inserted orally, through the stomach and into the bile duct, allowing a physician to look for abnormalities and inject dyes so that the pancreas is better visualized with X-rays.
  • Endoscopy / Laparoscopy: A thin, lit tube is inserted either orally or through a small incision in the abdomen to check for signs for pancreatic cancer. In addition to identifying tumors, the procedure can also extract suspicious tissue for further evaluation.
  • Biopsy: Abnormal-looking cells are extracted from the pancreas and checked by a pathologist for cancerous signs.
  • Genetic testing: A genetic test of the cells extracted during biopsy can show whether the cancer is sensitive or resistant to specific treatments, so your care team can plan the most effective regimen against the disease.
Other tests that may be used for diagnosis or further evaluation include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and ultrasound scans.
Staging Pancreatic Cancer
To properly plan for treatment, pancreatic cancer patients are staged in accordance to how advanced the disease is. This is primarily done by taking a number of factors into consideration, including:
  • Size of the tumor
  • If the tumor has grown into a blood vessel or adjacent organs, such as the stomach or liver
  • Whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes and how many lymph nodes are affected
  • Whether the cancer has metastasized to distant organs
  • If the cancer can be completely removed by surgery
Based on these factors, patients are staged according to their risk level, with higher risk patients typically requiring more intensive treatments.
More information on pancreatic cancer staging criteria is available on the National Cancer Institute’s website.
If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer or are looking for a second opinion consultation about your treatment, find out more about becoming a patient by calling 800-826-HOPE or filling out the Request a New Patient Appointment Online form.