If you’re worried you may have pancreatic cancer, we understand you want answers quickly. At Central Maine Healthcare, we can answer all your questions and will work to provide an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible.
Screening for Pancreatic Cancer
A screening test is used to find cancer before it produces any symptoms. Pancreatic cancer is one of many cancers for which there are no recommended tests that will detect this cancer early in those who are at average risk for the disease.
If you are at high risk for the disease your doctor may recommend an endoscopic ultrasound, which uses a thin, flexible tube (called an endoscope) to insert a small ultrasound probe into your digestive tract. Doctors use the ultrasound to look for any evidence of cancer. If they find a tumor, a needle can be inserted in the endoscope to take a sample which can be further examined.
Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer
A risk factor is anything that increases your risk for a disease. In pancreatic cancer there are a few risk factors you can control: not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting exposure to workplace chemicals in the dry cleaning and metal-working industries.
There are more factors you can’t change, but you should be aware of them so you can tell your doctor. These include:
- Having a family history of pancreatic cancer
- Inheriting a genetic syndrome, which is a change in your genes passed down to you from your parents
- Being African-American
- Being over the age of 45
- Having diabetes
- Having chronic pancreatitis
- Cirrhosis – or scarring – of the liver
- Having stomach problems like ulcers or excess stomach acid
Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer
If your doctor suspects you may have pancreatic cancer, she’ll start by doing a physical exam and getting your medical history. Depending on what she finds, she’ll order one or more of the following tests:
These use x-rays, sound waves, radioactive substances or magnetic fields to create images of the inside of your abdomen. An endoscopic ultrasound is a commonly used test for this purpose.
This procedure involves removing a small bit of tissue to examine under a microscope. In some cases your doctor may use a needle inserted through the skin to the pancreas to remove the tissue. Other times, she’ll get a sample during an endoscopic ultrasound.
To diagnose your condition, your doctor may draw blood to test it for tumor markers. These markers are specific proteins shed by pancreatic cancer. One of these tests is called CA19-9. It isn’t always reliable and it’s not always clear how to use the results. But it can still be helpful to doctors, in addition to other tests.