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designated cancer center

Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer

At Your First Examination

At your first examination, your doctor is likely to ask you questions about the following things.

Diagnostic Tests

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for pancreatic cancer may include a number of tests.

Ultrasound (also called sonography)

This diagnostic imaging technique uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the internal organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs of the abdomen such as the liver, pancreas, spleen, and kidneys and to assess blood flow through various vessels. The ultrasound may be performed using an external or internal device:

Computed Tomography Scan (CT or CAT scan)

This diagnostic imaging procedure uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

This diagnostic procedure uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.

Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

This procedure allows the doctor to diagnose and treat problems in the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and pancreas. The procedure combines X-ray and the use of an endoscope—a long, flexible, lighted tube. The scope is guided through the patient's mouth and throat, then through the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. The doctor can examine the inside of these organs and detect any abnormalities. A tube is then passed through the scope, and a dye is injected which will allow the internal organs to appear on an X-ray.

Percutaneous Transhepatic Cholangiography (PTC)

In this procedure, a needle is introduced through the skin and into the liver where the dye (contrast) is deposited and the bile duct structures can be viewed by x-ray.

Special Blood Tests

You may undergo a variety of special blood tests.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

This is a type of nuclear medicine procedure. This means that a tiny amount of a radioactive substance, called a radionuclide (radiopharmaceutical or radioactive tracer), is used during the procedure to assist in the examination of the tissue under study. Specifically, PET studies evaluate the metabolism of a particular organ or tissue, so that information about the physiology (functionality) of the organ or tissue is evaluated, as well as its biochemical properties. Thus, PET may detect biochemical changes in an organ or tissue that can identify the onset of a disease process before anatomical changes related to the disease can be seen with other imaging processes such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Pancreas Biopsy

A biopsy is a procedure in which a sample of pancreatic tissue is removed (with a needle or during surgery) for examination under a microscope.

A biopsy can confirmthat you have cancer. It can also let your doctor know what kind of pancreatic cancer you have. The biopsy may be done as a separate procedure, during another test, or during surgery to remove the pancreas. A biopsy is usually done in one of three ways.

Once the biopsy is done, a pathologist examines tissue samples under a microscope to check for cancer cells. It usually takes a few days for the results of your biopsy to come back.

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