Pancreatic cancer often presents clinically with non-specific signs and symptoms such as pain, jaundice (yellowing of the skin) and weight loss. In these situations the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer may not be suspected and even when it is, pancreatic cancer can be difficult to detect and diagnose. A variety of techniques can be used to establish a diagnosis. These techniques include CAT scan, endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
Although all of these imaging techniques may reveal a suspicious mass in the pancreas, the "gold standard" for diagnosing pancreatic cancer remains histopathology. Tissue for microscopic examination can be obtained by fine needle biopsy, by tissue needle cone biopsy or by excisional biopsy at the time of laparotomy (see types of pancreatic cancer). Angiography is useful to determine if the vessels around the pancreas are involved by the tumor and a blood test (CA19-9) can be useful in following the effectiveness of treatment.
For detailed information on each procedure (accuracy, potential risks, results) click on the links below: