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What You Need to Know to Fight Pancreatic Cancer

pancreatic cancerIf you have cancer of the pancreas, you already know you’re in for the fight of your life. It’s relatively well known that few people conquer this aggressive type of cancer long-term, and you may wonder what’s next.

It’s helpful to know what’s around the corner with this diagnosis, says R. Matthew Walsh, MD, General Surgery Chair at Cleveland Clinic. He says doctors continue to search for the best advances to give them the upper hand in the difficult battle.

What tests can you expect?
You’ve likely already had a physical exam and blood test to identify pancreatic cancer. More tests will help determine severity:

  • Tumor marker test: Your doctor will test a blood, urine or tissue sample for substances produced by tumors.

  • Diagnostic imaging: MRI, CT and PET scans, abdominal ultrasounds and endoscopic ultrasounds can gather detailed pictures of any tumors or changes in your pancreas.

  • X-ray procedures: Sometimes pancreatic cancer causes bile blockage, resulting in jaundice. During an X-ray procedure called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), a catheter inserted via an endoscope injects dye into the pancreatic ducts to locate blockages. If an ERCP isn’t possible, a percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC) can x-ray liver and bile ducts to find blockages. During a PTC, clinicians inject dye through a thin needle inserted below the ribs into the liver.

  • Laparoscopy: Surgeons make small incisions in the abdomen so a thin, lighted camera can shine light on organs to illuminate signs of disease that has spread.

  • Biopsy: Clinicians remove cells or tissue samples and examine them for signs of cancer. There are several types of biopsies for pancreatic cancer. Fine- or core-needle biopsies remove pancreatic cells during an X-ray or ultrasound.

What impacts prognosis?