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Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

Doctors reviewing CT scan

Pancreatic cancer rarely causes symptoms in early stages, which makes early detection challenging. At the Abramson Cancer Center, our world-class specialists are experts at diagnosing all types of pancreatic tumors, including precancerous pancreatic cysts that require special monitoring.

We offer a dedicated Pancreatic Cyst Clinic to assess risk and follow your health over time. We’re on your side to make sure you get a precise diagnosis and timely treatment.

Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis: The Penn Medicine Advantage

Penn’s pancreatic cancer specialists are national leaders in the field. We have decades of experience diagnosing a high volume of pancreatic cysts and pancreatic cancers. When you choose us for pancreatic cancer diagnosis, you’ll get expert precision combined with compassion and understanding.

At the Abramson Cancer Center, you benefit from:

  • Personalized diagnosis: Our dedicated GI cancer pathologists expertly identify common and rare types of pancreatic cancer. We use precision medicine tools to analyze cancer’s DNA and personalize your diagnosis and treatment.
  • Expert second opinions: If you’re looking for another perspective on a recent pancreatic cancer diagnosis, we can help. Our specialists review your records and discuss your treatment options one-on-one, helping you make informed decisions about your care.
  • Specialized care for rare and complex conditions: Penn’s fellowship-trained GI doctors have an in-depth understanding of even the most complex pancreatic cancers. We know how to detect and treat benign (noncancerous) pancreatic cysts and rare cancers of the pancreas, such as neuroendocrine tumors.
  • Easy access to genetic testing: Some pancreatic cancers have a genetic link. We provide point-of-care genetic testing for all patients with a new pancreatic cancer diagnosis. These test results help guide doctors to the right treatments for you. The results may also provide insight into your family members’ cancer risk, which may help them take steps to protect their long-term health.
  • Dedicated program for people at high risk: The experts working at our Gastrointestinal Cancer Genetics Program identify inherited cancer syndromes that put people at higher risk for pancreatic cancer. We then create a personalized pancreatic cancer risk management plan, which may include annual screening tests. Regular pancreatic cancer screenings help doctors detect tumors early, when treatment may be most effective. The region’s only dedicated multidisciplinary Pancreatic Cyst Clinic offers initial assessment and long-term surveillance.
  • All the care you need, in one place: Penn Medicine’s extensive network provides comprehensive pancreatic cancer diagnosis, treatment and support services in a growing number of communities. Find an Abramson Cancer Center location near you.
  • Ongoing research efforts: Penn’s GI Cancer Research Program is one of the nation’s most robust centers dedicated to GI cancers. Our researchers participate in dozens of studies, including efforts focused on identifying pancreatic cancer in its earliest stages.

Pancreatic Cancer Tests

At Penn, our doctors have access to a full spectrum of diagnostic tests, including some of the most advanced cancer detection tools available today. You can trust our team to provide a precise diagnosis informed by evidence-based techniques and decades of experience. We want you to have the right diagnosis so that you can move on to the best treatment.

The first step to a cancer diagnosis is often a thorough physical exam and a review of your symptoms. If our specialists suspect you may have pancreatic cancer, they may recommend one or more tests:

  • Imaging tests: Advanced imaging tests (such as CT or MRI or endoscopic ultrasound) show clear details of internal organs and tissues. These tests can often confirm if there’s a tumor or abnormality in your pancreas. They also show a tumor’s location and size.
  • Biopsy: If imaging tests detect a tumor, your doctor may recommend a biopsy. During this procedure, a doctor uses sophisticated instruments to carefully remove a tiny piece of tumor tissue.
  • Blood tests: In some cases, your doctor may order a blood test to check for substances (called tumor markers) made by pancreatic cancer cells.
  • Pathology tests: At Penn, a dedicated GI cancer pathologist inspects tissue cells under a microscope to confirm or rule out a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

Staging Pancreatic Cancer

After doctors confirm a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, they may still recommend additional tests to learn more about the cancer affecting you. Doctors call this staging, and it helps inform pancreatic cancer prognosis. It also guides your doctors’ treatment recommendations.

During staging, your doctor will consider several factors, including a tumor’s size and location and whether the cancer has spread. These details help our specialists determine whether cancer removal surgery is a safe option for you.

At Penn, we also perform sophisticated genomic tests to analyze cancer cells’ DNA. This information may point us to new or evolving therapies (some available only through clinical trials) that may benefit you.

Ultimately, our specialists come together to review your test results and weigh all your treatment options. We then create a customized treatment plan. Learn about pancreatic cancer treatments.

Request an Appointment

Our pancreatic cancer nurse navigator can guide you to the right pancreatic cancer expert for your needs. Call 215-615-0534 or request an appointment online.