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, this news may come as a shock. Get more information if you have just been diagnosed.

The test results will 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.

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.

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. Read more about stage 1 cancer.

Stage 2

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. Read more about stage 2 cancer.

Stage 3

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. Read more about stage 3 cancer.

Stage 4

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. Read more about stage 4 cancer.

Read more about the stages if you have just been diagnosed

TNM staging for pancreatic cancer

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 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

Click here for more information

Coping with your diagnosis

Being told that you have pancreatic cancer may come as a shock. Everyone reacts differently and there is no ‘right’ way to feel. It can take time to come to terms with your diagnosis. You might find you have good and bad days, and you will probably go through a range of emotions.

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 what you need and available throughout your care.

Find out more about dealing with the emotional impact of pancreatic cancer

What happens next?

If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, your case should be reviewed at a specialist cancer centre where there is a team of pancreatic cancer specialists. This team is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT). You might not meet everyone in the MDT, but your doctor or nurse should tell you what the MDT have decided.

You will probably have lots of questions – 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.

We have lots of information for people recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Updated December 2020

Review date December 2023