What do my test results mean?

Your doctor will explain what the tests have found, and whether you have pancreatic cancer or not.

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

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.

Stage of the cancer

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.

There are two types of staging. One type of staging uses numbers to describe the stage of the cancer.

Stage 1

The cancer is contained inside your pancreas. This is early, localised pancreatic cancer. This is also called operable cancer.

Stage 2

The cancer may have grown larger. It has started to spread to a small number of lymph nodes near the pancreas, or to the bile duct or first part of the small intestine (duodenum). It hasn’t spread to large blood vessels near the pancreas.

Stage 3

The cancer has spread further outside your pancreas. It may have spread to the stomach, spleen, or large blood vessels near the pancreas. This is usually locally advanced cancer but it may occasionally be borderline resectable cancer.

Stage 4

The cancer has spread to other parts of your body. This is advanced or metastatic cancer. It may also be called inoperable cancer.

Read more about the stages of pancreatic cancer.

TNM staging for pancreatic 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. 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.

Questions to ask your doctor or nurse

  • 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?

Read more about what your diagnosis means and your treatment options

Just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer

The care you should expect and receive

Being told that you have pancreatic cancer may come as a shock. 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.

We have lots of information and support available to help you deal with your diagnosis.

Read more about the care you should expect

Updated August 2018

Review date August 2020