Login to Pancreatic Cancer UK

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 to find out the cause of these so you get a proper diagnosis.

If you do have pancreatic cancer

If you do have pancreatic cancer, the results give your doctor detailed information about the cancer.

Depending on what tests you have already had, you may need some more tests after your diagnosis to find out what stage the cancer is and what treatment  you may need. These tests may include a CT scan, MRI scan, PET-CT scan, an EUS or a laparoscopy.

If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer you should be offered a CT scan if you haven’t already had one. This is so doctors can work out the stage of your cancer and decide the best way to treat it. The CT scan should include your tummy, chest and pelvic area (below your tummy) to check for any signs of cancer outside the pancreas.

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. Your doctor may tell you the stage of your cancer, and explain exactly what it means and how it affects your treatment options. Some doctors may just focus on whether or not your cancer can be removed with surgery, rather than the stage.

One type of staging uses numbers to describe the stage of the cancer.

Stage 1

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 1 pancreatic cancer diagram

 

  • 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.

Stage 2

The cancer has started to grow into the duodenum (first part of the small intestines), 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 it has grown.

Stage 2 pancreatic cancer diagram

  • Stage 2A means that the cancer is larger than 4cm and 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.

Stage 3

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).

Stage 3 pancreatic cancer diagram

Stage 4

The cancer has spread to other parts of the body such as the lungs, liver or peritoneum (the lining inside the tummy wall). 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.

Stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagram

 

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. It is larger than 2cm but no larger than 4cm.
  • T3: the cancer is larger than 4cm and 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.
  • N2: the cancer has spread to four or more 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.
  • M1: the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver or lungs. 

Being told that you have pancreatic cancer may come as a shock. We have lots of information and support available to help you deal with your diagnosis. You and your family should be given information and support to help you deal with your diagnosis and manage the emotional impact of pancreatic cancer. This support should be tailored to your needs and the stage of your cancer, and continue to be available throughout your care.

Your care should be reviewed at a specialist cancer centre where there is a team of specialists in treating pancreatic cancer. This team is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT). You should be involved in all decisions made about your care. Your treatment should start within 31 days of the treatment decision being made, if you are fit and well enough to have it. Read more about specialist centres and the MDT.

Questions to ask

  • What do the test results say about my cancer?
  • What stage is the cancer?
  • Has the cancer spread? If so where to?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • Are there any clinical trials available for me?

Just diagnosed? Read about the information and support we can provide.

The tests used to diagnose pancreatic cancer

Being referred to a specialist centre

Read about the care you should expect and receive

Read the NICE guidelines for diagnosing and caring for people with pancreatic cancer

Information Standard

Updated August 2018

Review date August 2020