Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer
A pancreatic cancer diagnosis, like so many other cancer diagnoses, is incredibly hard to make when the cancer is still in the early stages. Unfortunately, these early stages of cancer of the pancreas are also when cancer is the easiest to treat. Initial diagnosis of pancreatic cancer usually happens when a patient begins to experience symptoms, or if the patient is lucky, when a routine exam for another conditions turns up an abnormal mass in the pancreas. Most patients come to the doctor only after they have been experiencing pancreas cancer signs for several months. Once a patient approaches the doctor with symptoms like abdominal pain, weight loss, or jaundice, he will usually start a number of different tests to help determine the cause of the patient’s symptoms.
Examinations almost always start with a detailed medical history to help determine if there are any past signs of pancreatic cancer, or if the patient has a history of other illnesses that might explain the symptoms. Medical histories are normally followed by a physical examination that may allow a doctor to feel a mass around the site of the pancreas. While this can provide a preliminary indication of diagnosing pancreatic cancer, it is not yet conclusive. Lab tests can then help to determine if the flow of bile is blocked, or if other abnormalities in the body’s chemistry have occurred.
Based on the findings of the previous series of tests, the doctor will then attempt to look inside the body and locate the source of the tumor. This can be done in several different ways. CT scans, MRIs, Ultrasounds, and PET scans can all reveal a mass in the pancreas. Once a mass has been found, the doctor may then perform a minor surgery to get a sense of how large the mass is and how it is positioned. These interior looks are acquired through an endoscopy or a laparoscopy. And endoscopy usually starts at the mouth, while a laparoscopy enters the body through a series of small incisions.
When to See A Doctor
If you have experienced any of the pancreas cancer symptoms for more than a month, it is important that you see a doctor right away. These signs of pancreas cancer may include weight loss, jaundice, abdominal pain, and digestive problems. These symptoms could also point to other serious diagnoses, so consulting a doctor is in your best interest. If you also fall under the risk factors for pancreatic cancer, then seeing a doctor is doubly important.
Stages of Pancreatic Cancer
The pancreatic cancer stages are broken into five different levels, with each level representing how far the cancer has spread. The earlier that pancreatic cancer is located the better, as the treatment process becomes much more challenging, and the treatment options much more limited, during the later stages of pancreatic cancer.
Stage 0: No spread. Pancreatic cancer is confined to a single layer of cells, and is not visible.
Stage I: Local growth. Pancreatic cancer is currently only located in the pancreas, but has grown from the Stage 0
Stage II: Local spread. Pancreatic cancer has spread slightly, and may have infected the nearby lymph nodes.
Stage III: Wider spread. Pancreatic cancer has not spread to nearby organs, but has infected blood vessels and nerves.
Stage IV: Confirmed spread. Pancreatic cancer can be found in distant organs.