How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?

This section is for anyone having tests for pancreatic cancer. It explains the different tests, what they involve, and what your test results mean.

What is in the 'How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?' section?

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.

Seeing your GP

Give your GP a good description of your symptoms, including any changes to your bowel habits. Tell your GP about anything unusual, even if you aren’t sure it’s important. You might find our tips for talking to your GP helpful.

Some people see their GP several times before getting a diagnosis. If you have unexplained symptoms that last four weeks or more, go back to your GP until you get a firm diagnosis, or a referral for tests to find out what’s causing them. Read more about seeing your GP.

Your GP may refer you for tests at the hospital to work out what is causing your symptoms.

Tests for pancreatic cancer

You may need several different tests to work out what’s causing your symptoms. It may take some time to get a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

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.

Read about the different tests

Read our fact sheet about diagnosing pancreatic cancer

To read more about how pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, download our fact sheet, How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?

You can also order a printed copy.

Order the fact sheet
How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed fact sheet front cover

What do your test results mean?

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.

If you have recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, find out more about what your diagnosis means.

Get more information if you have just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer

Questions about tests for pancreatic cancer?

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 about the tests you are having or your diagnosis.

Speak to our nurses
A specialist nurse taking a phone call.

References and acknowledgements


Email us at for a list of sources used to write this information


We would like to thank the following people who reviewed our
information on how pancreatic cancer is diagnosed:

  • Victoria Allen, GP with Specialist Interest in HPB Medical Oncology
  • Joanne Boardman, Radiographer, Whiston Hospital
  • Fiona Campbell, Consultant Gastrointestinal Pathologist, Royal Liverpool
    University Hospital
  • Peter Caulton, Clinical Professional Manager CT/MRI Services, Whiston Hospital
  • Achla Damania, GP partner, Swanlow Practice, Winsford, Cheshire
  • Jonathan Evans, Consultant Interventional Radiologist and Endoscopist, The Royal Liverpool University Hospital Trust
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Lay Information Reviewers
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Specialist Nurses

Updated December 2020
Review date December 2023