Diagnosis & Staging
Pancreatic cancer often does not have any symptoms until the cancer is at an advanced stage. This makes it hard to diagnose. People with pancreatic cancer may have one or more of these symptoms:
- Jaundice (when the whites of your eyes and your skin turn yellow).
- Pain in your upper abdomen and/or upper back.
- Loss of appetite.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Diarrhea or constipation.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Pale, greasy stools that may float in the toilet.
- You develop Type II diabetes.
If you have any signs or symptoms that you are worried about, please talk to your family doctor or nurse practitioner.
Tests that may help diagnose pancreatic cancer include:
What are the types of pancreatic cancer?
- About 95% (95 out of 100) of all pancreatic cancers are ductal adenocarcinomas. These cancers start in the cells that line the pancreatic duct. The pancreatic duct carries enzymes to the small intestine. Enzymes help digest food.
- Rare types of pancreatic cancer include adenosquamous, undifferentiated small cell carcinomas, cystadenocarcinomas and lymphomas.
- Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (PNETS) are an uncommon type of cancer that start in the neuroendocrine cells of the pancreas. This cancer has different symptoms, treatments and causes than pancreas cancer. For more information on PNETS: Canadian Cancer Society
Staging describes the cancer. Staging is based on how much cancer is in the body, where it was first diagnosed, if the cancer has spread and where it has spread to.
The stage of the cancer is used to plan your treatment.
Pancreatic cancer staging:
- Stage 1A: Cancer is only in the pancreas. Tumour (cancer growth) is 2 cm (about 1 inch) or smaller.
- Stage 1B: Cancer is only in the pancreas. Tumour is bigger than 2 cm.
- Stage 2A: Tumour has grown outside of the pancreas but not into large blood vessels, lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
- Stage 2B: Tumour may have grown outside of the pancreas but not into nearby large blood vessels. Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body.
- Stage 3: Tumour has grown into nearby large blood vessels. Cancer may or may not have spread to nearby lymph nodes. Cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.
- Stage 4: Cancer has spread to other parts of the body (distant metastasis).
The grade of the cancer describes how different the cancer cells look from normal cells and how fast the cancer cells are growing. A pathologist will give the cancer a grade after looking at the cells under a microscope.
Pancreatic cancer can be grade 1, 2, 3 or 4. The lower the number, the lower the grade.
Low grade: cells are abnormal but look a lot like normal cells. Low grade cancers usually grow slowly and are less likely to spread.
High grade: cells are abnormal and do not look like normal cells. High grade cancers usually grow more quickly and are more likely to spread.
The grade of the cancer helps your health care team predict how the cancer may respond to treatment.