How To Detect Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

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Blood Tests To Collect More Evidence

Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer – Mayo Clinic

No current blood test can reveal pancreatic cancer in the way that PSA levels in the blood point to prostate cancer.

But blood tests can deliver other types of information that are useful in a pancreatic cancer diagnosis:

  • Liver Function Test This test can gauge your level of bilirubin, a chemical produced by the liver that may build up if pancreatic cancer is present.
  • Tumor Markers Substances in the blood called CA 19-9 or CEA suggest pancreatic cancer. These so-called tumor markers are not completely reliable, though, because they can sometimes spike if you dont have pancreatic cancer. Because of this, they are typically only checked if you are found to have a tumor on imaging.
  • Hormones Unusual levels of insulin or other pancreatic hormones in the blood may indicate the presence of an uncommon type of pancreatic cancer called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors .

Blood Tests For Early Detection

In addition to tumor marker tests, some newer tests are geared toward detecting pancreatic cancer early. This is important since the outlook for pancreatic cancer declines sharply if the diagnosis is only made once the cancer has progressed to a more advanced stage.

These early detection blood tests include the GalleriTM test and the PanCan-d test.

  • The GalleriTM test can detect more than 50 types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer. It does this by looking for DNA from cancer cells that are shed into the blood. DNA from cancer cells can look different than the DNA of healthy cells.
  • The PanCan-d test is specific for pancreatic cancer. It detects for pancreatic cancer, including CA19-9. The measurements from these biomarkers are then combined into an equation to produce your result.

There are, however, some drawbacks to these tests:

  • Neither test has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration .
  • Testing can be costly, about $1,000, and isnt covered by insurance, although payment plans may be available.
  • Who can get the tests may be restricted based on age, pancreatic cancer risk factors, and location.

Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis And Early Detection

Pancreatic cancer may go undetected until it’s advanced. By the time symptoms occur, diagnosing pancreatic cancer is usually relatively straightforward. Unfortunately, a cure is rarely possible at that point.

Diagnosing pancreatic cancer usually happens when someone comes to the doctor after experiencing weeks or months of symptoms. Pancreatic cancer symptoms frequently include abdominal pain, weight loss, itching, or jaundice . A doctor then embarks on a search for the cause, using the tools of the trade:

  • During a physical exam, a doctor might feel a mass in the abdomen and notice swollen lymph nodes in the neck, jaundiced skin, or weight loss.
  • Lab tests may show evidence that bile flow is being blocked, or other abnormalities.

Based on a person’s exam, lab tests, and description of symptoms, a doctor often orders an imaging test:

If imaging studies detect a mass in the pancreas, a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is likely, but not definite. Only a biopsy — taking actual tissue from the mass — can diagnose pancreatic cancer. Biopsies can be performed in several ways:

If pancreatic cancer seems very likely, and the tumor appears removable by surgery, doctors may recommend surgery without a biopsy.

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Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Options

Treatment options for patients of Comprehensive Cancer Centers with pancreatic cancer often include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or targeted therapy. One form of radiation therapy, is CyberKnife® Radiosurgery. The technology is exclusive to radiation oncologists at Comprehensive and offers patients a painless, non-invasive treatment alternative using computer-operated robotics and image guidance technology to treat hard-to-reach tumors.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan

Take action against pancreatic cancer · Pancreatic Cancer Action

A magnetic resonance imaging scan also produces an image of the inside of your body, but it uses strong magnetic and radio waves instead of X-rays.

MRI scans are carried out in a tube-shaped MRI scanner. It’s a noisy procedure that can feel claustrophobic. It also takes longer than other types of scans.

Like a CT scan, an MRI scan allows your doctor to check for signs of cancer in other parts of the body.

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What Is A Pancreatic Tumor

Normally, cells only divide to form new cells when the body needs them, and the body destroys old cells that are no longer functioning properly. Mutuations in cell DNA can cause cells to grow and divide uncontrollably, or may prevent old cells from dying when necessary. The reasons these mutations occur are still being researched, but it is known that the mutations can either be inherited or acquired during life. When extra cells accumulate and form a mass, it is called a tumor. Tumors can be benign or malignant.

What Is The Difference Between A Benign Tumor And Cancer

If a tumor remains in one place and stops growing, it is considered benign. Benign tumors do not possess the ability to invade other tissues and organs. This is why benign tumors are not cancerous. However, they can cause health problems by placing pressure on nearby organs, blood vessels, or nerves.

If a tumor continues to spread, it is considered malignant also called cancer. Malignant tumors are dangerous because they can spread to other organs and tissues. The process of spreading beyond the original organ is called metastasis: if a tumor has spread to other tissues or organs, it is called metastatic . Physicians assign the cancer a stage depending on how wide it has spread.

Tumors in the pancreas can either be exocrine tumors or endocrine tumors .

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Symptoms Of Rare Pancreatic Cancers

Islet cell tumors, also called neuroendocrine tumors, arise from the cells in the pancreas that make hormones. Islet cell tumors account for less than 5% of all pancreas tumors.

Like pancreatic adenocarcinoma, islet cell tumors may cause abdominal pain, weight loss, nausea, and vomiting. Hormones released by an islet cell tumor can also cause symptoms: These include

  • Insulinomas : sweating, anxiety, lightheadedness, and fainting from low blood sugar
  • Glucagonomas : diarrhea, excessive thirst or urination, weight loss
  • Gastrinomas : abdominal pain, stomach ulcers that can bleed, reflux, weight loss
  • Somatostatinomas : diarrhea, weight loss, abdominal pain, foul-smelling fatty stools
  • VIPomas : watery diarrhea, abdominal cramping, facial flushing

What Causes Pancreatic Cancer

Seeking early detection for pancreatic cancer | Kaiser Permanente

For most cases of pancreatic cancer, the cause is unknown. Sometimes it is linked to an inherited gene mutation, but other times the mutation happens after birth, and is not a result of anything.

However, there are certain lifestyle factors that can increase your chances of getting pancreatic cancer. Its important to know these risks, as some are under your control, and by adopting a healthier lifestyle you will reduce your chances of getting this horrible disease.

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Early Warning Signs And Symptoms

When symptoms of a pancreatic tumor first appear, they most commonly include jaundice, or a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes, which is caused by an excess of bilirubina dark, yellow-brown substance made by the liver. Sudden weight loss is also a common early warning sign of pancreatic cancer. Other symptoms of cancer of the pancreas include:

  • Dark-colored urine

Knowing The Signs Of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer can be difficult to detect for a number of reasons. First, symptoms can be vague and are not necessarily associated with the pancreas.

Generalized symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain in the abdomen or back

Because of the location of the pancreas, some symptoms will not present until the cancer advances. Symptoms can differ depending on the location of the tumor within the pancreas, adds Dr. Mulcahy. The pancreas can be described with three major anatomical parts: the head, body and tail. Here are some possible symptoms of pancreatic cancer based on the location of the tumor:

  • Head. This location causes an obstruction in the bile duct. As a result, individuals may have yellowing of their eyes, skin or nails, and have dark urine.
  • Body. A tumor in this location of the pancreas sits deep within the body. This is the largest cavity, allowing plenty of room for the tumor to grow without symptoms. However, you may experience nausea or mid-back pain.
  • Tail. These tumors often sit adjacent to the stomach, so you may experience indigestion or discomfort eating, especially after fatty foods. If the tumor has infiltrated the stomach, you may have constant, or chronic, nausea.

In some cases, individuals who previously had no risk factors may suddenly develop Type 2 diabetes. The link is not completely clear, but if you do not have any family history or other risk factors for diabetes, it warrants further evaluation, says Dr. Mulcahy.

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Blood Tests For Tumor Markers

Tumor markers are substances that are either made by cancer cells or made by your body in response to cancer. Some types of tumor markers can be found in the blood and could indicate the presence of cancer.

The two tumor markers most commonly used to help detect pancreatic cancer are called CA19-9 and CEA. These are proteins that, at higher levels, can be detected in the blood of some people with pancreatic cancer.

However, not everyone with pancreatic cancer has high levels of these proteins. Also, other health conditions can also cause high levels of these proteins.

Some People Might Not Need A Biopsy

How to detect precursor lesions of pancreatic cancer earlier: the ...

Rarely, the doctor might not do a biopsy on someone who has a tumor in the pancreas if imaging tests show the tumor is very likely to be cancer and if it looks like surgery can remove all of it. Instead, the doctor will proceed with surgery, at which time the tumor cells can be looked at in the lab to confirm the diagnosis. During surgery, if the doctor finds that the cancer has spread too far to be removed completely, only a sample of the cancer may be removed to confirm the diagnosis, and the rest of the planned operation will be stopped.

If treatment is planned before surgery, a biopsy is needed first to be sure of the diagnosis.

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Definition Of Early Pancreatic Cancer

Early pancreatic cancer may be defined based on resectability, size or curability. Here are three definitions in order of decreasing prevalence and increasing survival .

Early Pancreatic Cancer- Definitions

A) Resectable pancreatic cancer

B) Small pancreatic cancer

According to the TNM classification, tumors 20 mm in size are classified as T1. Early pancreatic cancer defined as tumors 20 mm in size is also called small pancreatic cancer . To put this in perspective, the median size of resected pancreatic cancers is 30 mm . Small cancers constitute only ~ 20% of resected pancreatic cancers . In an unpublished series of 300 patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas who underwent margin-negative resection between 1987 and 2000 at our center, 54 were small . The 5 year survival after resection of small pancreatic cancers in case series and collective reviews has ranged from 30% to 60% , suggesting that detection of small pancreatic cancer will further enhance survival in pancreatic cancer.

C) Curable pancreatic cancer

How To Diagnose Pancreatic Cancer

This article was co-authored by Joshua Ellenhorn, MD. Joshua Ellenhorn, MD, is a board certified surgeon with advanced training in the fields of surgical oncology, minimally invasive surgery, and robotic surgery. He runs a private practice at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California and is a nationally recognized leader in surgery, cancer research, and surgical education. Dr. Ellenhorn has trained more than 60 surgical oncologists and has spent over 18 years in practice at the City of Hope National Medical Center, where he was a professor and the chief of the Division of General and Oncologic Surgery. Dr. Ellenhorn performs the following surgical procedures: gallbladder surgery, hernia repair, colorectal cancer, skin cancer and melanoma, gastric cancer, and pancreatic cancer. He earned an MD from the Boston University School of Medicine, completed fellowships at the University of Chicago and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and finished his residency in surgery at the University of Cincinnati.There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 43,576 times.

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You Were Recently Diagnosed With Diabetes Or Your Well

Research suggests that a sudden onset of type 2 diabetes in people age 50 or older may be an early symptom of pancreatic cancer, especially in those who have a low body mass index, experience continuous weight loss or do not have a family history of diabetes.

A sudden change in blood sugar levels in diabetics who previously had well-controlled diabetes may also be a sign of pancreatic cancer. Learn more about diabetes and pancreatic cancer.

Review the infographic for a closer look at pancreatic cancer symptoms and risk factors.

Biopsy: The Most Accurate Method

How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?

The most accurate way to diagnose pancreatic cancer is through biopsy: removing a piece of tissue from the suspected problem area and analyzing the sample under a microscope.

Doctors can collect this tissue through various biopsy methods:

  • Inserting a thin, hollow needle through the skin into the pancreas.
  • Using an endoscope threaded down the throat, through the stomach, and into the small intestine near the pancreas.
  • Surgically removing pancreatic cells.

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Why Is Pancreatic Cancer Hard To Find Early

  • The pancreas is deep in the abdomen. Doctors usually cannot see or feel the tumor during a physical exam.
  • Pancreatic cancer symptoms are not always obvious and usually develop over time.
  • Tests used to diagnose pancreatic cancer do not always detect small lesions, pre-cancers or early-stage cancers well.
  • Researchers have had a hard time figuring out which people to screen. Broad screening can cause medical, emotional and financial challenges.
  • Doctors use several tests to diagnose pancreatic cancer, but there is no standard, single test.

How Long Will I Have To Wait For My Test Results

It may take from a few days to a couple of weeks to get the test results ask how long it will be when you go for the test. You can also ask who to contact if you dont hear anything. You will need an appointment with your consultant to find out what the results show and discuss what happens next.

Your test results should also be sent to your GP, and you may be sent a copy of the letter. If theres anything in the letter thats not clear, your GP or medical team can help explain what it means.

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A Medical History And Physical Exam May Offer The First Clues

A medical evaluation will typically begin with the doctor getting your medical history including the pattern and severity of the symptoms you may be experiencing and conducting a physical exam.

Because the pancreas is hidden behind the stomach and other organs, the doctor will most likely be unable to feel a pancreatic tumor unless it has already advanced to the later stages of the disease and grown large.

But the doctor may be able to detect any swelling of the liver or gallbladder by feeling your abdomen. These can be pancreatic cancer signs.

Jaundice yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes may be another indication of trouble.

Symptoms Of Endocrine Pancreatic Tumours

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

Endocrine pancreatic tumours are uncommon. They are also called neuroendocrine tumours. Most pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours don’t produce hormones so don’t cause specific symptoms.

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours that produce hormones are called functional tumours. The symptoms are different for each type, depending on the hormone the tumour produces.

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Lab Tests Of Biopsy Samples

The samples obtained during a biopsy are sent to a lab, where they are looked at under a microscope to see if they contain cancer cells.

If cancer is found, other tests might be done as well. For example, tests might be done to see if the cancer cells have mutations in certain genes, such as the BRCA genes or NTRK genes. This might affect whether certain targeted therapy drugs might be helpful as part of treatment.

See Testing Biopsy and Cytology Specimens for Cancer to learn more about different types of biopsies, how the biopsy samples are tested in the lab, and what the results will tell you.

Pain In The Stomach Or Back

Pancreatic cancer can cause a dull pain in your upper tummy , which may spread to your back.

To begin with, the pain may come and go, but as the tumour becomes larger and more advanced, the pain may be more constant and last longer.

The pain is often worse when you lie down or after you’ve eaten. You may also have pain or tenderness in your abdomen if your liver, pancreas or gallbladder are enlarged.

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Comprehensive Cancer Centers Can Help

Physicians at Comprehensive Cancer Centers provide a variety of treatment options for patients with pancreatic cancer and those interested in other services including cancer genetic counseling and world-class clinical research. To schedule an appointment with the team at Comprehensive, please call 702-952-3350.

The content is this post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

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