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.

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) or gallstones.

Tests for pancreatic cancer

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.

Read about the different tests

Read our fact sheet about diagnosing pancreatic cancer

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

Download or order our fact sheet

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.

Just 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:

  • Achla Damania, Macmillan GP, Vale Royal and South Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group
  • Christian Macutkiewicz, Consultant General & Hepatopancreatobiliary Surgeon, Manchester Royal Infirmary
  • Derek O’Reilly, Consultant Hepatobiliary & Pancreatic Surgeon and Clinical Professor, University of Manchester
  • Fiona Campbell, Consultant Gastrointestinal Pathologist, Royal Liverpool University Hospital
  • Jo Harvey, Macmillan Upper Gastrointestinal/Hepatopancreatobiliary Clinical Nurse Specialist, Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Information Volunteers
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Specialist Nurses

Updated August 2018
Review date August 2020