Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

Learn how we diagnose and stage pancreatic cancer.

Before we treat your pancreatic cancer, we first need to diagnose the type of cancer you have and see how far it has progressed. We will create a personalized treatment plan based on your diagnosis.

How we diagnose pancreatic cancer

We use laparoscopic surgery to diagnose pancreatic cancer. In this procedure, our surgeons will create keyhole-size incisions and insert instruments to determine what type of pancreatic cancer you have. Our team has expertise in using endoscopic ultrasound and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography – techniques that help us study and assess diseases affecting the digestive system.

We also can determine whether the cancer has metastasized – spread to other parts of the body – with this procedure. Patients usually recover within one to two days of the laparoscopic procedure.

Types of pancreatic masses

The type of pancreatic tumor you have affects how we treat it. We’ll diagnose whether the mass you have is cancerous, and if it is, what type of cancer you have. Most pancreatic tumors are adenocarcinomas, cancers that usually start in the ducts of the pancreas. However, you could have one of several types of masses, including:

  • Chronic pancreatitis: an inflamed pancreas
  • Cystic lesion: a sac of fluid that usually isn’t cancerous, but can become cancerous
  • Neuroendocrine tumor: a cancerous tumor that begins in the hormone-producing cells of the pancreas
  • Periampullary tumor: a cancerous tumor that forms where the pancreas ducts and bile duct come together

If we diagnose your pancreatic cancer at an early stage, it may be curable with surgery. However, we can provide treatment at any stage.

How we stage pancreatic cancer

The stage of a cancer refers to how severe it is and how far it has spread beyond the originally affected organ. Staging helps us determine the most appropriate treatment method. We stage pancreatic cancer with the TNM system, the system recommended by the American Joint Committee on Cancer.

  • Tumor: We look at the size of the primary tumor and evaluate whether it has grown outside the pancreas and spread to nearby organs, such as the stomach.
  • Nearby lymph nodes: The lymph nodes are immune system cells. Cancer is likely to spread to these cells first.
  • Metastasis: The spreading of a cancer outside the originally affected organ is called metastasis. Pancreatic cancer often metastasizes to the lungs, liver, or abdominal lining (peritoneum).

We assign numbers after the T, N, and M to describe how advanced the cancer is. Higher numbers indicate a more advanced cancer.

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