In the starting or initial cases, it is difficult to identify pancreatic cancer because symptoms aren’t visible. Even if the symptoms are visible, they are just like certain common symptoms that can be seen or taken as a common illness of the body. Among all pancreatic cancers, 95% of cases are of adenocarcinoma, so we will focus on understanding the diagnosis of adenocarcinoma cancer.
Diagnosis of Exocrine Pancreatic Cancer
Generally, patients come after feeling the above symptoms like loss of weight, itching, and jaundice in most cases. A doctor then proceeds further for the diagnosis of cancer in the following ways like:
- The doctor will first visit you, or you will visit the doctor and will tell you the history of your symptoms and problems with your health. You should tell the doctor about your lifestyle and habits like smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco. You must also inform the doctor about your history of body pain areas.
- The doctor will then examine your symptoms and may monitor physical symptoms like lymph nodes, yellowish skin, reduction in weight, etc.
- The oncologist will then advise you to have some lab tests which may send light on the blocked tissues.
On the basis of the lab tests or apparent symptoms, the doctor may prescribe some imaging tests to diagnose your pancreatic cancer like:
- Computed tomography (CT scan) – The CT scan or computed tomography can help in the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer by taking several x-ray images and then reconstructing them with the help of a computer to present a detailed picture of the inside of the abdomen.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – Magnetic resonance imaging can assist in diagnosis of pancreatic cancer by creating a detailed picture of the abdomen, liver, pancreas, and surrounding areas with the help of magnetic waves.
- Ultrasound – Ultrasound works by throwing sound waves and catching the reflected waves to create an image of the abdomen and helps with the diagnosis of cancer.
- Positron emission tomography (PET scan) – Positron emission tomography test helps in identifying how far cancer has spread in the body. Radioactive glucose is injected into the body of the patient, which is absorbed by cancerous cells.
Most of the imaging tests are expensive, and you might be required to undergo one or more than one of the above criteria for the test of pancreatic cancer.
After the imaging tests, if a mass is found in the pancreas, then it almost becomes inevitable that the patient has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. But, for the final confirmation, a biopsy is required. If the doctor is very sure that the patient has cancer, and the tumor is removable through surgery, he may go ahead with surgery without a biopsy.
The biopsy can be of following types:
- Percutaneous needle biopsy – The process is also known as fine-needle aspiration. In this procedure, an expert takes the help of an imaging device and inserts a needle into the mass to capture some tissue for further investigation of their destructive nature.
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) – In this process, an endoscope containing a camera and other tools are inserted into the gut area, through the mouth, to take pictures of the affected area and even collect some tissues.
- Endoscopic ultrasound – This process is similar to ERCP. An endoscope with a needle is used to get the muscles, but an ultrasound device is used to locate the mass instead of a camera.
- Laparoscopy – It is a surgical procedure for biopsy, hence a bit more risky than other biopsy procedures. A doctor puts several small incisions in the body and then uses tools to pluck out some tissues and even make observations of the insides of the stomach and surrounding areas.
The biopsy is one of the rarest pancreatic cancers. The expense of the treatment rises as the cancer reaches to its worsening position.
Early Detection of Pancreatic Cancer
Early detection in the case of pancreatic cancer is complicated and rare because the symptoms are usually invisible. However, researchers are continually trying to find ways of early detection of pancreatic cancer; otherwise, there are two methods that have shown some response in the discovery of pancreatic cancer.
Blood tests – Pancreatic cancer might be shown up in blood tests as some substances like carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and CA 19-9 show elevation in the body of patients. However, they may not always rise at an early stage of cancer, making them unreliable for early detection.
Endoscopic ultrasound – Endoscopic ultrasound is an invasive method of biopsy to test pancreatic cancer. Aggressive endoscopic ultrasound is being tested on patients with a high risk of pancreatic cancer to see if early detection is possible. Initial tests have been promising, but it is considered risky because of its invasive nature.
Diagnosis of Pancreatic Endocrine Cancer
Just like exocrine pancreatic cancer, endocrine cancer is also imaging through imaging tests and biopsy tests. Whereas endocrine pancreatic cancer has different symptoms as compared to exocrine cancer. The symptoms are related to pancreatic endocrine cancer are the release of hormones that are related to cancerous cells.