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Pancreatic cancer diagnosis and tests

How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?

The first step in a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is a person seeing their GP with possible symptoms of pancreatic cancer. These can be vague.

Jaundice can be a symptom of pancreatic cancer. The GP is likely to check the eyes and skin for signs of jaundice and may also arrange urine and blood tests for jaundice.

A physical examination of the abdomen or tummy may be carried out to check for swelling or abnormal signs.

If the GP suspects pancreatic cancer, a referral will be made for specialist tests at a local hospital.

Pancreatic cancer tests

To diagnose pancreatic cancer, the specialist will arrange tests, such as:


This painless test uses high-frequency sound waves to see inside the abdomen to look for problems with the pancreas.

CT scan

A computerised tomography or CT scan uses X-rays to produce more detailed images of the pancreas than ultrasound can.

MRI scan

A magnetic resonance imaging or MRI scan uses magnetic waves to produce detailed images.

Endoluminal ultrasonography (EUS)

Depending on the results of earlier tests, a more invasive test called an endoluminal ultrasonography or EUS may be arranged. During the test, a thin flexible tubular device called an endoscope with an ultrasound probe goes in the mouth and down to the stomach. A sedative is likely to be offered to help swallow the tube. If a problem is spotted, a sample of tissue called a biopsy can also be taken using the endoscope for laboratory testing.

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

This procedure uses an endoscope to put a plastic tube or stent into the bile duct after which a special dye is used to help give a more detailed X-ray image. Cell samples are also taken during this procedure using a tiny brush.


This procedure involves a small 'keyhole' cut being made in your abdomen for a thin, flexible tubular instrument called a laparoscope to be passed through. This device produces images of the inside of the body to assess any tumour before an operation is planned.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on December 31, 2014

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