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No single test can determine whether someone has pancreatic cancer. Some signs and symptoms of the disease, such as abdominal pain and unexplained weight loss, are often nonspecific or vague. Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes) is a more typical complaint because when pancreatic cancer is located in the head of the pancreas, the tumor can block the common bile duct.
These symptoms are often associated with less serious problems, but always warrant further evaluation that may include a medical exam, radiographic studies and/or endoscopic procedures.
Advanced imaging technology and endoscopic procedures have revolutionized the detection, diagnosis and staging of pancreatic cancer. All of these noninvasive and minimally invasive techniques are available at the University of Chicago Medicine, enabling our specialists to detect, diagnose and stage pancreatic cancer without performing surgery:
UChicago Medicine is one of the few medical centers in the nation with a long-standing, established program in interventional endoscopy.
Individuals and families who are at risk for developing pancreatic cancer can now take advantage of sophisticated screening services. Doctors can then closely monitor patients, identifying early signs of cancer and treating it sooner.
Our pancreatic cancer team includes some of the nation’s most respected pathologists — highly skilled experts at examining tissue to accurately diagnose pancreatic cancer.
The results of diagnostic tests for pancreatic cancer determine clinical staging, which is the extent and severity of the disease. The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) established the TNM system, which uses three key factors to determine the stage of pancreatic cancer:
1. T: Size and location of tumor
2. N: Has it spread to nearby lymph nodes and, if so, how many
3. M: Has it metastasized (spread) to other sites in the body, such as distant lymph nodes or other organs
After a T, N or M category is determined, a stage grouping (0, I, II, III or IV) and a tumor grade (1, 2 or 3) are assigned.
Staging and other data from imaging and tissue analysis allow our medical, radiation and surgical oncologists to determine the best course of treatment: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of therapies.