What do my test results mean?
Your doctor will explain what the tests have found, and whether you have pancreatic cancer or not.
If you don’t have pancreatic cancer
If the tests show that you don’t have pancreatic cancer, you may be very relieved. But if you continue to have symptoms, make sure you go back to your GP. Sometimes the tests and scans can miss something.
If you do have pancreatic cancer
If you do have pancreatic cancer, the results give your doctor detailed information about the cancer, such as what type of pancreatic cancer you have and what stage it is.
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. It also helps doctors decide on the best treatment options for you.
One type of staging uses numbers to describe the stage of the cancer.
The earliest stage – the cancer is contained inside the pancreas. This is known as early, localised or resectable pancreatic cancer. It may be possible to operate to remove the cancer (resectable).
- Stage 1A means that the cancer is smaller than 2cm.
- Stage 1B means that the cancer is larger than 2cm – but is still contained in the pancreas.
The cancer has started to grow into the duodenum, bile duct or tissues around the pancreas, or there may be cancer in the lymph nodes near the pancreas. Lymph nodes are small glands found around the body, which are part of the immune system. This may be resectable pancreatic cancer – it may be possible to operate to remove the cancer, depending on how far the cancer has grown.
- Stage 2A means that the cancer has started to grow outside the pancreas, but has not spread to the lymph nodes.
- Stage 2B means the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
The cancer has spread into the stomach, spleen, large bowel or into large blood vessels near the pancreas. This is usually locally advanced or unresectable pancreatic cancer, which means it is not possible to remove the cancer with surgery (unresectable). However, it may very occasionally be borderline resectable cancer which means it may be possible to remove the cancer, but it depends which blood vessels are affected.
If you can’t have surgery, you will still be able to have treatment with chemotherapy or chemotherapy combined with radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy).
The cancer has spread to other parts of the body such as the lungs or liver. This is known as advanced or metastatic pancreatic cancer. It’s not possible to remove the cancer with surgery (unresectable), as surgery can’t remove all the cancer cells once they have spread to other parts of the body.
You may still be able to have treatment with chemotherapy to slow down the growth of your cancer.
Another system that is used is called TNM (Tumour-Nodes-Metastases) staging. You may only be given the TNM stage after you have had surgery to remove the cancer, if this is possible.
T is the size of the tumour.
- T1: the cancer is contained inside the pancreas, and is smaller than 2cm.
- T2: the cancer is contained inside the pancreas, but is bigger than 2cm.
- T3: the cancer has started to grow into tissues around the pancreas, but it hasn’t grown into the large blood vessels.
- T4: the cancer has grown into nearby large blood vessels.
N shows whether the cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes.
- N0: the cancer hasn’t spread to nearby lymph nodes.
- N1: the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
M shows whether the cancer has spread to another part of the body (metastatic cancer).
- M0: the cancer hasn’t spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver or lungs.
- M1: the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Your doctor may tell you the stage of your cancer, and explain exactly what it means and how it affects your treatment options. However, some doctors may focus on whether or not your cancer can be removed with surgery, rather than the stage.
Being told that you have pancreatic cancer may come as a shock. You will probably have all sorts of emotions, questions and concerns. Speak to your doctor or nurse. We also have lots of information about what to expect. And you can speak to our specialist nurses on our free and confidential Support Line with any questions or worries.
Questions to ask
- What do the tests results say about my cancer?
- What stage is the cancer?
- Has the cancer spread? If so where to?
- What are my treatment options?
- What happens next?
Published July 2016
Review date July 2018