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Oftentimes, the symptoms of pancreatic cancer can be very vague, making it difficult to diagnose early. Additionally, there is no standard screening protocol for pancreatic cancer. However, Moffitt does offer a pancreatic cyst and high risk clinic that follows patients who may be at a heightened risk of developing pancreatic cancer. When pancreatic cancer is suspected, there are a variety of tests that can be performed to verify a diagnosis. These tests can also help with determining the stage of the cancer’s progression and which treatment options will be most appropriate.

How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?

Moffitt Cancer Center’s Gastrointestinal Oncology Program offers a full range of tests in a single, convenient location to help detect pancreatic cancer and confirm or rule out a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Our methods include:


We may oftentimes recommend a variety of lab tests that can be altered in patients with pancreatic cancer. These can include:

  • Liver function tests (LFTs) and bilirubin –Patients with pancreatic cancer can often present with jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin, which can occur when a tumor/mass obstruct the bile ducts.
  • CA19-9 – This is a protein found in the blood that can be elevated in patients with pancreatic cancer.

Computed tomography (CT)

Patients often require imaging of the chest, abdomen and pelvis, which is used to identify the pancreatic mass and assess if the cancer has spread to any other distant organs. This imaging is useful for staging and helps to determine if the patient may be eligible for surgery.

Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)

A thin, lighted tube (endoscope) with a small ultrasound probe built into its tip is passed through a patient’s mouth to the abdominal area. The device produces sound waves that create distinct patterns of echoes as they bounce off the internal organs. These patterns are used to create detailed images of the pancreas, which can reveal tumors and help with complete staging. Often times, during an EUS procedure, a biopsy is taken, at which time a small piece of tissue from the pancreas is removed. This material is later reviewed by a pathologist and can confirm the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. A biopsy and tissue diagnosis are necessary before any treatment can be initiated.

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

An endoscope is guided through a patient’s mouth to the stomach. A catheter is then inserted through the tube to inject a contrast substance into the pancreatic ducts, after which one or more X-ray images are captured. This procedure allows for visualization of the bile ducts and can help determine if there is a blockage. Occasionally it may be necessary to have a stent placed, which can help to alleviate an obstruction in patients with jaundice. An ERCP can also be useful for obtaining a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

PET Scan 

PET scans, or positron emission tomography scans, are imaging tests that show molecular activity inside the body. These scans help diagnose cancer by detecting that the pancreatic cancer is localized to the pancreas.(In contrast, other imaging scans detect already-formed tumors and other anatomical abnormalities.) This means that PET scans are better for identifying early-stage malignancies. However, PET scans can be combined with other imaging tests, such as a CT scan, for more comprehensive results.

After a patient’s diagnostic tests are completed, the multispecialty team of experts at Moffitt will thoroughly review and discuss the results at the Multidisciplinary Pancreatic Tumor Board. . If a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is confirmed, these test results can serve as a starting point to help our physicians identify the specific type of cancer and determine whether it has spread beyond the pancreas. This can help us recommend the treatments that are more likely to be effective for the patient’s unique situation.

The research team at Moffitt continues to pave the way in finding new and better methods of diagnosing and treating pancreatic cancer. As a result, our cancer survival rates consistently outrank national averages and our patients experience higher-quality lives. In recognition of our ongoing efforts, the National Cancer Institute has designated Moffitt as a Comprehensive Cancer Center – the only one based in Florida.

For more information about pancreatic cancer diagnosis techniques, contact us at 1-888-663-3488 or request to schedule an appointment online. We accept new patients with or without referrals.