Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Diagnosis and Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer

How is pancreatic cancer found?

Methodist Dallas Medical Center is the first hospital in the nation awarded certification by The Joint Commission for pancreatic surgery and the first in Texas awarded certification for pancreatic cancer. Unlike heart disease, where doctors can pinpoint a clot or look for high levels of cholesterol, there are not similar types of diagnostic tools for pancreatic cancer detection. This is why it is so important to have an experienced team of medical professionals on your side. Results of diagnostic tests can help guide pancreatic cancer treatment.

Diagnosis and tests to find pancreatic cancer

History and physical exam

Patients will be given a health history and physical exam to help diagnose pancreatic cancer. The exam will focus mostly on the abdominal area of the liver, which may be enlarged. The skin and the white part of the eyes will be checked for jaundice. Your symptoms, medical history, and family history of cancer may be reviewed.

Diagnostic imaging tests

  • CT scan (computed tomography) – These x-rays can be useful in finding pancreatic tumors. CT scans can also show the organs near the pancreas and whether cancer has spread. A CT scan may determine if surgery is a good treatment option.
  • ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) – A thin, flexible tube is passed down the throat, into the small intestine, where the doctor can see through the end of the tube. A small amount of contrast dye is then pushed through the tube into the ducts. The dye colors outlines of the ducts on x-rays to reveal blocked ducts that could signal cancer of the pancreas.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) – MRI scans use radio waves and strong magnets to image the tumor and may be helpful in looking at the pancreas and surrounding organs.
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography) – PET scans use a radioactive glucose to image cells. Cancer cells are very active and they take in large amounts of the sugar. This whole body scan is useful to see if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or to other places.
  • PET/CT scan – This test combines the 2 types of scans to even better pinpoint the tumor spread beyond the pancreas. It may also be useful for staging the cancer and finding it sooner.
  • Somatostatin receptor scintigraphy (SRS) – also known as OctreoScan, SRS can be helpful in diagnosing pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.
  • Ultrasound – This test can help tell what kind of tumor is in the pancreas. An endoscopic ultrasound gives a picture, which may be more helpful than a CT scans for spotting small tumors.
  • Blood tests - While there is currently no specific test that finds pancreatic cancer, blood tests can show whether jaundice is due to a blockage in the bile duct or to another cause, such as liver disease. If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, your doctor may give you a special blood test, called CA 19-9 to track the activity of pancreatic cancer cells.
  • Biopsy – surgical removal of tissue from the pancreas to determine whether pancreatic cancer is present.

All imaging tests are not always required.

Contact the Pancreatic Cancer Program at Methodist Dallas

For more information about pancreatic cancer treatment options and pancreatic cancer resources at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, call Nikisha Smith at 214-947-1766.

Texas law prohibits hospitals from practicing medicine. The physicians on the Methodist Health System medical staff are independent practitioners who are not employees or agents of Methodist Health System, or any of its affiliated hospitals.