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How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?

This section is for anyone having tests for pancreatic cancer. It explains the different tests for pancreatic cancer, what they involve, and what your test results mean. Speak to your GP, consultant or specialist nurse if you have any questions. You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line.

Pancreatic cancer can be difficult to diagnose. This is because it doesn’t usually cause many specific symptoms in the early stages, and symptoms can be quite vague. Symptoms can also be caused by more common conditions, such as:

  • pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining)
  • hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
  • gallstones.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer may include:

Symptoms vary in different people and you may not have all of these symptoms. If you have jaundice, go to your GP without delay. If you have any of the other symptoms, you don’t know why you have them, and they last four weeks or more, go to your GP.

Doctors will need to rule out all the possible causes for your symptoms. This means that you will need several different tests to help diagnose pancreatic cancer and it may take some time to get a diagnosis.

You may have different tests at different times. Your hospital will give you detailed information on the tests you will need and where you will need to go for your appointments. Your test results will confirm if you have pancreatic cancer or not.

If you do have pancreatic cancer, the test results will give your doctor detailed information on your cancer and its stage. The stage of your cancer describes the size of the cancer and whether it has spread around the pancreas, or to other parts of the body. This information helps your doctor work out the best treatment for you.

It can take time to come to terms with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. You and your family should be given information and support to help you deal with your diagnosis and the emotional impact of pancreatic cancer.

You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line  with any questions about the tests you are having or about your diagnosis.

Download our ‘How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?’ fact sheet below to find out more about diagnosing pancreatic cancer. You can also order hard copies of our information on our publications form.