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Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis
Pancreatic Cancer
Causes and Risk Factors

Pancreatic cancer is not always easy to diagnose. In fact, there are currently no blood tests that can reliably detect the cancer while it is in its early stages.

The first doctor most people will see about symptoms of cancer of the pancreas will likely be a primary physician. Even if the doctor identifies that symptoms could be due to pancreatic cancer, s/he will l not be able to make a firm diagnosis. You’ll need to go to hospital for tests and to see cancer specialists to be certain. Doctors and specialists in areas related to pancreatic cancer include:

  • Colon & rectal surgeons
  • Gynecological oncologist
  • Hematologist (blood/leukemia specialists)
  • General oncologist (cancer specialists)
  • Pediatric hematologist
  • Radiation oncologist

Medical exams
Doctors diagnose pancreatic cancer based on presenting symptoms, physical examination, blood tests and scans that look at an individual’s internal organs. Imaging tests produce pictures of internal organs and tissues. If these tests detect pancreatic cancer that appears to be re-sectable, surgery is often the next step. For example, doctors may take a small sample of cells (biopsy) from the pancreas. In some cases, a tumor marker CA 19-9 (cancer antigen) test may additionally be performed. The following diagnostic tests may be used to assist with diagnosing pancreatic cancer:

Blood tests - Currently, there is no simple blood test that can detect or diagnose early pancreatic cancer. However, certain blood tests that can help support a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, or help doctors determine treatment if evidence of cancer is found. Keep in mind that none of these tests can be used as conclusive diagnostic tools on their own.

Hepatic function test - The hepatic function test examines bilirubin and enzyme levels. If there a tumor is present and is blocking the bile duct, bilirubin levels may increase and cause jaundice. Liver enzymes and pancreatic enzymes, such as amylase, may also be elevated as a result of a blocked bile duct.

CA 19-9 tumor marker - CA 19-9 is a tumor marker associated with pancreatic cancer. A tumor marker can be produced by a tumor cell or by the body in response to a tumor cell. The levels of tumor markers in the bloodstream can help your doctor evaluate certain types of cancer.

Carcinoembryonic antigen test (CEA) – Doctors use the CEA test to determine disease progression and treatment effectiveness. CEA is a protein that may also be used as a tumor marker. CEA levels can increase in the presence of certain cancers like those involving the gastrointestinal tract.

Imaging tests

Abdominal ultrasound – Although an ultrasound is not a definitive test for tumors, it is a good way to identify and locate gallstones or cysts in the pancreas. The test uses high frequency sound waves that bounce off structures in the individual’s body. A computer translates these echo patterns into a sonogram image.

Computerized axial tomography (CAT scan or CT scan) –This is a specialized x-ray technique. It produces detailed cross-sectional images of internal organs and tissues.

Endoscopic ultrasonography (EUS) - The EUS test is used to detect small tumors of the pancreas or tumors that involve blood vessels. Plus, the procedure can provide details about the arteries and veins next to the pancreas. It is performed with a lighted tube that is inserted through the mouth and placed into the stomach while ultrasound images of the pancreas are taken through the stomach wall.

ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) - An ERCP is performed with a lighted tube used to examine the bile ducts and helps to determine possible causes of bile duct blockage.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan) – During and MRI powerful magnet are employed around a person as a computer tracks the magnetism. Pictures of the tissues are produced and studied.

Upper GI (gastrointestinal) series – During this procedure, a person swallows a contrast solution containing the mineral barium. While the solution is in the digestive system, x-rays are taken to determine the presence of abnormalities.

Medical procedures

Biopsy – This procedure is often performed If imaging tests detect an abnormality that warrants further investigation. During a biopsy, a sample of tissue is removed and examined for cancer cells. In the laboratory, pathologists (doctors who specialize in diagnosing diseases) evaluate the specimen for abnormal growth. If there is a tumor (an abnormal mass of cells), it may be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

A laparoscopy involves using a device called a laparoscope. The laparoscope is used to remove a small piece of tissue from the pancreas.

Laparotomy – During this procedure, exploratory surgery is performed through an incision in the abdomen to help doctors assess the extent of the disease.

Needle biopsy – Needle biopsy is one method that is used to obtain a tissue sample. During this procedure, the surgeon inserts a needle into the abdomen. The doctor and needle is guided by an imaging technique and a small sample of pancreatic tissue is removed.

When a person is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, an oncology team determines the best course of action. If pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, the information gathered will pinpoint the location, size and stage of the cancer. This information will help your medical team design your specific treatment plan. Before treatment can be considered, the cancer is staged. Click here to learn more about staging pancreatic cancer and pancreatic cancer life expectancy.

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Tags: cancer cells, Cancer, gastrointestinal tract, abdominal ultrasound, medical procedures, arteries and veins, gastrointestinal, appears to be, antigen test, blood tests, abnormality, blood test, ultrasound, diagnosis, procedure, radiation, treatment, cat scan, symptoms, jaundice
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