About Pancreatic Cancer
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By the time symptoms occur, diagnosing pancreatic cancer is usually relatively straightforward. Pancreatic cancer may go undetected until it’s advanced. Unfortunately, a cure is rarely possible at that point.
Diagnosis – Diagnosing pancreatic cancer usually happens when someone comes to the doctor after experiencing weeks or months of symptoms. Pancreatic cancer symptoms frequently include abdominal pain, weight loss, itching, or jaundice (yellow skin). A doctor then embarks on a search for the cause, using the tools of the trade: •By taking a medical history, a doctor learns the story of the illness, such as the time of onset, nature and location of pain, smoking history, and other medical problems. •During a physical exam, a doctor might feel a mass in the abdomen and notice swollen lymph nodes in the neck, jaundiced skin, or weight loss. •Lab tests may show evidence that bile flow is being blocked, or other abnormalities.
If imaging studies detect a mass in the pancreas, a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is likely, but not definite. Only a biopsy — taking actual tissue from the mass — can diagnose pancreatic cancer. Biopsies can be performed in several ways:
Percutaneous needle biopsy: Under imaging guidance, a radiologist inserts a needle into the mass, capturing some tissue. This procedure is also called a fine needle aspiration (FNA).
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): A flexible tube with a camera and other tools on its end (endoscope) is put through the mouth to the small intestine, near the pancreas. ERCP can collect images from the area, as well as take a small biopsy with a brush.
Endoscopic ultrasound: Similar to ERCP, an endoscope is advanced near the pancreas. An ultrasound probe on the endoscope locates the mass, and a needle on the endoscope plucks some tissue from the mass.
Laparoscopy is a surgical procedure that uses several small incisions. Using laparoscopy, a surgeon can collect tissue for biopsy, as well as see inside the abdomen to determine if pancreatic cancer has spread. However, laparoscopy has higher risks than other biopsy approaches. If pancreatic cancer seems very likely, and the tumor appears removable by surgery, doctors may recommend surgery without a biopsy.