How we diagnose pancreatic cancer

The pancreas is located deep within the body, making it difficult to detect early tumors during a routine physical exam. Additionally, there are no reliable screening options for pancreatic cancer, so it tends to be diagnosed at later stages when the cancer has grown and spread. At City of Hope, our knowledgeable and skilled team will work with you to ensure that your cancer is detected, diagnosed and staged using the latest methods.

In addition to physical exams and blood tests, doctors at City of Hope use a variety of diagnostic tools to check for pancreatic cancer:

  • CT Scan – Radiologists use computer-controlled X-ray imaging generated from multiple angles to create a precise 3D view. City of Hope employs “triphasic” or triple-phase scanning, which captures images at three different time intervals, for greater accuracy.
  • ERCP - A thin, flexible tube with a camera attached is inserted into the mouth, down into the stomach and the bile duct, to look for abnormalities as well as inject dyes to better visualize the pancreas with X-rays.
  • Endoscopy / Laparoscopy - A thin, lit tube is inserted either orally or through a small incision in the abdomen. This procedure can identify tumors, and also remove tissue samples for examination.
  • Biopsy – An examination of tissue samples for signs of cancer.
  • Genetic testing - A genetic test of the cells tissue samples can show whether the cancer is sensitive or resistant to specific treatments.
  • PET Scan – This imaging tool takes advantage of the fact that cancer cells consume more glucose and multiply faster than non-cancerous cells. After a radioactive form of glucose is injected into a vein, cancer cells will appear brighter than normal cells. PET scans can detect tumor cells earlier than physical exams and other forms of scanning.
  • MRI - Using a powerful magnet, radio waves and computer imaging, MRI's capture detailed pictures which can help determine whether a tumor can be surgically removed.
  • Ultrasound – Sound waves bounced off internal organs create an image called a sonogram which can help determine the number of tumors and their locations.