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Unfortunately, there are no laboratory tests available for the early detection or diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Diagnosis usually is made after the cancer has already spread, using imaging tests and biopsy.

Laboratory tests that are useful with pancreatic cancer include:

  • CA 19-9 (Cancer antigen 19-9): a tumour marker that can be used for monitoring response to treatment. It is not useful for detection or diagnosis because it is not elevated in all cases and it is not specific for pancreatic cancer (it may be elevated as a result of other conditions). If it is elevated at diagnosis it may then be used to monitor the treatment or recurrence.
  • CEA (Carcinoembryonic antigen): used as a monitoring tool
  • Other tests, such as liver function tests, amylase and lipase may be helpful to determine the effects of the cancer

Non-laboratory tests that may be used:

  • CT (computed tomography) scan: useful for detecting pancreas masses and checking for metastasised cancer
  • ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography): may be used to introduce a dye for X-rays or to place a stent (a metal or plastic tube that can help keep a duct open and functioning)
  • Transabdominal ultrasound
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Biopsy: used to confirm diagnosis of cancer, often in conjunction with CT scan

Last Review Date: March 6, 2017