What do my test results mean?

Your doctor will explain what the tests have found and if 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. If you still have symptoms, keep going back to your GP to find out what’s causing them until you get a proper diagnosis.

If you do have pancreatic cancer

If you do have pancreatic cancer, this news may come as a shock. Read more about support and information to help you deal with your diagnosis.

The test results will give your doctor detailed information about the cancer.

You may need more tests after your diagnosis to find out what stage the cancer is and what treatment you may need. You should be offered a CT scan if you haven’t already had one. Other tests may include an MRI scan, PET-CT scan or an EUS.

Ask your doctor how long you might have to wait for these test results. If you don’t hear back within that time, get in touch with your specialist nurse or your doctor.

What does the stage of the cancer mean?

The stage of your cancer describes the size of the cancer and if it has spread outside the pancreas or to other parts of the body.

Your consultant may tell you the stage of your cancer and explain exactly what this means and how it affects your treatment options. Some doctors may just focus on if your cancer can be removed with surgery, rather than the stage. Ask your doctor if you would like to know the stage of the cancer.

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

Stage 1 pancreatic cancer

The cancer is contained inside your pancreas. This is early, localised pancreatic cancer. It is also called operable or resectable cancer because surgery to remove the cancer may be possible.

  • Stage 1A means that the cancer is smaller than 2cm.
  • Stage 1B means that the cancer is 2-4cm in size but is still contained in the pancreas.

Stage 2 pancreatic cancer

The cancer may have grown larger. It may have spread to a small number of lymph nodes near the pancreas. Lymph nodes are small glands found around the body that are part of the immune system. The cancer hasn’t spread to large blood vessels near the pancreas.

  • Stage 2A means that the cancer is larger than 4cm but has not spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 2B means the cancer is any size but has spread to 1-3 lymph nodes.

You might be able to have surgery to remove the cancer, but this depends on how far it has spread. You might also have chemotherapy.

If you can have surgery to remove the cancer

If you have been told you can have surgery to remove the cancer, download our booklet: Pancreatic cancer that can be removed by surgery. A guide if you have just been diagnosed.

You can also order a free printed copy.

Order the booklet
Newly diagnosed booklet

Stage 3 pancreatic cancer

The cancer has spread outside the pancreas. It may have spread to the large blood vessels near the pancreas, or to a number of lymph nodes. This is usually locally advanced cancer but it may occasionally be borderline resectable cancer.

If you have locally advanced cancer, it won’t usually be possible to remove the cancer with surgery (inoperable or unresectable cancer). You may be offered chemotherapy, sometimes with radiotherapy, to slow down the growth of the cancer. For a small number of people, this may shrink the cancer enough to make surgery possible.

Borderline resectable cancer is cancer that has grown very close to the major blood vessels near the pancreas. You may be able to have surgery to remove the cancer, but it depends which blood vessels are affected. You may have chemotherapy and possibly radiotherapy to try to shrink the cancer, before your doctors consider surgery.

Stage 4 pancreatic cancer

The cancer has spread to other parts of the body. It may have spread to the lungs, liver or lining of your tummy (peritoneum). This is advanced or metastatic cancer.

It’s not possible to remove the cancer with surgery (inoperable or 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 chemotherapy to slow down the growth of the cancer. There are also treatments to manage any symptoms.

If you can't have surgery to remove the cancer

If you have just been diagnosed with locally advanced or advanced cancer, download our booklet: Pancreatic cancer if you can’t have surgery (inoperable cancer). A guide if you have just been diagnosed.

You can also order a free printed copy.

 

Order the booklet
Newly diagnosed booklet

TNM staging

Another system that is used is called TNM (Tumour, Nodes, Metastases) staging.

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.
  • 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 1-3 nearby lymph nodes.
  • N2: the cancer has spread to 4 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.

Doctors combine T, N and M to give the stage of the cancer.

Coping with your diagnosis

Being told that you have pancreatic cancer may come as a shock. Everyone reacts differently and there is no right or wrong way to feel. It can take time to come to terms with your diagnosis and you will probably go through a range of emotions.

The medical team should give you and your family information and support to help you deal with the emotional impact of pancreatic cancer. This support should be tailored to what you need and available throughout your care.

Speak to our nurses

You can speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line for information and support. They can provide emotional support, as well as explaining what your diagnosis means, your treatment options, and how to manage symptoms.

Speak to our nurses
Woman on phone

Pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy

Pancreatic cancer can cause problems digesting your food. This causes symptoms like weight loss, indigestion and changes to your poo. The problems can be managed with capsules called pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT). If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and have problems digesting your food, you should be prescribed PERT.

What happens next?

If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, your case should be reviewed at a specialist cancer centre with a team of pancreatic cancer specialists. This team is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT). The MDT will use all the test results to work out the best treatment and care for you, based on the stage of your cancer.

You will be given a main contact, who will usually be a specialist nurse (sometimes called a clinical nurse specialist or CNS). They will support you and will be the person you speak to most.

Waiting to hear about treatment can be an anxious time. Ask your nurse or doctor how long you may have to wait for the MDT’s decision or for treatment to start. You may have lots of questions about your treatment and care. Ask your doctor or nurse anything you want to know.

You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line with any questions.

 

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?
  • What happens next?
  • Where can I get support?

Get tailored information about your diagnosis

If you or a loved one have just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, our tailored emails can help you get the information and support you need.

Sign up to get tailored emails
Couple use a laptop together

Updated April 2024

Review date April 2026