Signs & Symptoms

Being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer isnt something that generally happens quickly nor at an early stage. Many patients often approach their physician after weeks or months of experiencing rather vague symptoms. It is at this point that patients begin a battery of tests, exams and screenings that begin to point them in the direction of pancreatic cancer.


Symptoms often include fatigue, abdominal or back pain, appetite and weight loss as well as a possible yellowing of the skin, known as jaundice.


A variety of tests may be ordered by the physician to determine if a patient has pancreatic cancer.

CT Scan: Here, a scanner takes multiple images and reconstructs them through a computer to create detailed images of the interior abdomen. CT Scans can help lead to a diagnosis.

PET Scan: Radioactive glucose is injected into the patients veins whereby it spreads to areas that utilize glucose for energy. These areas include cancerous masses which can then be identified by doctors.

MRI: A scanner uses a powerful magnetic field to create rather detailed images of the abdominal region to include the pancreas, duodenum, liver and gallbladder.

Ultrasound: A safe and painless process, ultrasound machines utilize sound waves to formulate an image of the pancreas and surrounding region. These scans perform better on thinner patients.

When one or several of the above tests produce a firm picture of what is believed to be pancreatic cancer, doctors and staff often begin the process of streamlining the patient towards receiving a biopsy. A biopsy is when doctors take a sample of tissue from the suspected cancerous site. 


Doctors may forgo performing a biopsy if enough of a determination can be made that the site in cancerous and that immediate surgery is necessary and in the patients best interest.

Be aware that there are a variety of other tests and exams that may be used to firmly diagnose or rule out pancreatic cancer. Please visit one of the sites at the bottom of the page for more information and further learning.

For more information please visit:

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center & Comprehensive Cancer Center

American Cancer Society

Related Pages

National Cancer Institute

Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program

The North Carolina

Pancreas Foundation