Symptoms and diagnosis of pancreatic cancer

Symptoms

  • Pain or discomfort around your stomach area, which may spread to your back
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling full very quickly
  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Vomiting
  • Diabetes, especially if diagnosed within previous 2 years
  • Low mood

Screening

Testing for pancreatic cancer when you have no signs or symptoms is called screening. There is no national screening programme for pancreatic cancer as it is not a common cancer and there is no single test to diagnose it. If you are worried about your risk of pancreatic cancer, do talk to your family doctor.

Diagnosis

First visit your family doctor (GP) if you are worried about any symptoms. He or she can refer you to a specialist for more tests if needed.
At the hospital, you may need some of the following tests:

  • Blood tests
  • Ultrasound of liver, pancreas and bile duct
  • CT scan
  • ERCP
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)
  • Biopsy (sample of tissue)

Blood tests: Blood tests such as a full blood count and liver function tests may be done to check your general health. A special blood test called CA 19-9 might also be taken. This is a substance made by the pancreas and is called a biomarker. If it is raised, it can help to diagnose pancreatic cancer.

Ultrasound: This scan uses sound waves to look at your liver, pancreas and bile duct.

CT scan: This is a special X-ray that gives a detailed picture of the tissues inside your body, such as your pancreas and liver. A special type of CT scan might also be done. This is known as a multi-detector CT scan (MDCT). It can give quick and high-quality images of your pancreas.

ERCP: This stands for endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography. This is a special type of X-ray that can check for any abnormal cells or blockages near the pancreas. After giving you sedation, your doctor will pass a tube carefully down your throat and through your stomach to look at the pancreas, bile ducts and small bowel. A dye can be used to show up the tissues better.

EUS (endoscopic ultrasound): This test is like the ERCP but it also involves using an ultrasound. A sample of the pancreatic cells (biopsy) can be taken at the same time.

Biopsy: A biopsy is when a sample of the cells in the pancreas is taken and looked at under a microscope. A biopsy can be taken during an ERCP, EUS or laparoscopy. This test can confirm a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Other tests

  • Blood tests
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • Ultrasound scan

These tests can help to stage the cancer. This means finding out the size of the cancer and if it has spread anywhere else. This can help your doctor to decide on the best treatment for you.

Learn more about the above tests

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm