Pancreatic Cancer

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Unfortunately, there are no laboratory tests available for the early detection or diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Diagnosis is usually made after the cancer has already spread, using imaging tests and biopsy.

Laboratory tests that may be abnormal but are not diagnostic of pancreatic cancer include:

  • Amylase: the blood level of amylase is usually significantly elevated
  • Comprehensive metabolic panel: a group of tests that may be used to evaluate why someone is jaundiced, to detect elevated levels of bilirubin and liver enzymes, and to monitor liver and kidney function
  • CA 19-9 (Cancer Antigen 19-9): a tumor marker for pancreatic cancer; it may be used to monitor for cancer recurrence but is not useful for detection or diagnosis
  • CEA (Carcinoembryonic antigen): a tumor marker used as a monitoring tool
  • Other tests, such as fecal fat, stool trypsin, trypsinogen, and lipase, may be ordered to help evaluate how well the pancreas is functioning and to determine whether pancreatic enzyme supplementation is necessary.

Some diagnostic and imaging tests that may be used include:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: useful for detecting pancreatic masses and checking for metastasized cancer
  • Biopsy: used to confirm diagnosis of cancer, often in conjunction with CT scan
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): a test that uses a flexible scope inserted through the mouth and threaded through the esophagus to allow the pancreas to be examined; may be used to introduce a dye for X-rays or to place a stent (a metal or plastic tube that can help keep a duct open and functioning)
  • Transabdominal ultrasound
  • Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP): a type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) used to see the pancreas, its ducts, and the bile ducts more clearly; often used before or instead of ERCP

For more on imaging studies, see the web site

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