Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

A pancreatic cancer diagnosis is usually made based on the results of a variety of tests. This is necessary for several reasons. First, the early symptoms of pancreatic cancer are very vague, so they tend to be inconspicuous or attributed to other, less serious conditions. Second, due to the inaccessible location of the pancreas, which is situated deep within the abdomen behind the stomach, a physician may not be able to feel or see a tumor during a physical examination. Finally, there is no standard screening protocol for pancreatic cancer.

Moffitt Cancer Center’s Gastrointestinal Oncology Program offers a full range of tests in a single, convenient location to help detect pancreatic cancer and confirm or rule out a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Our methods include:

  • Physical examination – A physician can feel a patient’s abdomen to check for excess fluid buildup and/or changes in the pancreas, liver, gallbladder and spleen. The physician can also examine a patient’s eyes and skin for signs of jaundice.
  • Computed tomography (CT) angiography – A computer is used to create detailed, cross-sectional images of the pancreas and nearby organs and blood vessels. To improve image quality, a contrast dye can be used to illuminate the tissues being studied.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) – A thin, lighted tube (endoscope) with a small ultrasound probe built into its tip is passed through a patient’s mouth to the abdominal area. The device produces sound waves that create distinct patterns of echoes as they bounce off the internal organs. These patterns are used to create detailed images of the pancreas, which can reveal tumors and duct blockages.
  • EUS-guided biopsy – During an EUS procedure, a thin needle is passed through the endoscope to remove a small tissue sample from the pancreas. A pathologist can later confirm a pancreatic cancer diagnosis by evaluating the sample under a microscope and identifying cancer cells.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) – An endoscope is guided through a patient’s mouth to the stomach. A catheter is then inserted through the tube to inject a contrast substance into the pancreatic ducts, after which one or more X-ray images are captured.

After a patient’s diagnostic tests are completed, the multispecialty team of experts at Moffitt will thoroughly review and discuss the results. If a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is confirmed, these test results can serve as a starting point to help our physicians identify the specific type of cancer and determine whether it has spread beyond the pancreas. This can help us recommend the treatments that are more likely to be effective for the patient’s unique situation.

The research team at Moffitt continues to pave the way in finding new and better methods of diagnosing and treating pancreatic cancer. As a result, our cancer survival rates consistently outrank national averages and our patients experience higher-quality lives. In recognition of our ongoing efforts, the National Cancer Institute has designated Moffitt as a Comprehensive Cancer Center – the only one based in Florida.

For more information about pancreatic cancer diagnosis techniques, contact us at 1-888-MOFFITT or request to schedule an appointment online. We accept new patients with or without referrals.