Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Diagnosis

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for pancreatic cancer may include:

  • Ultrasound (also called sonography)– a diagnostic imaging technique that 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 and external or internal device:
    • Transabdominal ultrasound – the physician places an ultrasound device on the abdomen to create the image of the pancreas.
    • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) – the physician inserts an endoscope — a small, flexible tube with an ultrasound device at the tip — through the mouth and stomach, and into the small intestine. As the physician slowly withdraws the endoscope, images of the pancreas and other organs are made.
    • Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) – a diagnostic imaging procedure that 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) – a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
    • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) – a procedure that allows the physician 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 physician 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) – 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.
    • Pancreas biopsy – a procedure in which a sample of pancreatic tissue is removed (with a needle or during surgery) for examination under a microscope.
      Special blood tests.