Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Pancreatic cancer diagnosis

2-minute read

Pancreatic cancer is not usually detected until it's advanced. Do not try to diagnose cancer or treat yourself using online sites.

Your doctor may use a range of tests and techniques to diagnose the cause of symptoms, such as:

Your doctor may then recommend other tests to indicate if you have pancreatic cancer and determine whether or not the cancer has spread.

These tests may include:

Your doctor may also do a biopsy, where a small sample of tissue is removed for testing. This can identify if you have cancer and, depending on the type of biopsy, can determine how far it’s spread.

There are several ways the biopsy can be performed:

  • inserting a needle into the tissue through the abdominal wall to capture a sample
  • inserting a camera-tipped tube through your mouth down the gut to collect images from the area
  • inserting a tube through the abdominal wall with an ultrasound probe attached to view and collect a sample
  • a laparoscopy, which involves making small incisions in your abdomen that allow the surgeon to collect samples and examine the area

If pancreatic cancer is likely and it seems the tumour could be removed, your doctor may recommend surgery without a biopsy.

Stages of pancreatic cancer

These stages describe how far the cancer has spread:

  • stage I — the cancer has grown but is still only in the pancreas; less than 2 cm across is stage Ia, more than 2 cm across is stage Ib
  • stage II — local spread; there is growth outside the pancreas or into nearby lymph nodes
  • stage III — wider spread into major blood vessels or nerves but no metastasis (spread to other organs)
  • stage IV — confirmed spread to other organs

These stages guide treatment options.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2019

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Pancreatic cancer fact sheet

Pancreatic cancer occurs when abnormal cells within the pancreas grow in an uncontrolled way

Read more on Cancer Australia website

Pancreatic cancer - Lab Tests Online AU

Pancreatic cancer is uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that form tumours.

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

About pancreatic cancer | Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Read about the risks, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer and Garvan's research for better management and outcomes.

Read more on Garvan Institute of Medical Research website

Pancreatic cancer: Overview | Cancer Council Victoria

Understand more about pancreatic cancer including what it is, what types there are, how common it is, symptoms and risk factors.

Read more on Cancer Council Victoria website

Pancreatic cancer | Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Find information about pancreatic cancer, real life stories, and Garvan's research focus. We study the genetic characteristics of pancreatic cancer, prognosis and therapeutic responsiveness, and personalised medicine/treatment.

Read more on Garvan Institute of Medical Research website

Pancreatic cancer | Causes, Symptoms & Treatments | Cancer Council

What is pancreatic cancer? Find out about the symptoms, causes, treatment options and more. Get the facts from Cancer Council here

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Pancreatic cancer real lives | Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Real life stories of people living with Pancreatic cancer. How they were diagnosed, how they live with disease, and how research has an impact.

Read more on Garvan Institute of Medical Research website

Pancreatic cancer | Guide to best cancer care | Cancer Council

Access our pancreatic cancer guide to help you with what questions to ask your health professionals to make sure you receive the best care at every step

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Rare Cancers Australia - Pancreatic Cancer

A disease in which malignant (cancer) cells are found in the tissues of the pancreas. Also called exocrine cancer.

Read more on Rare Cancers Australia website

CA 19-9 - Lab Tests Online AU

Why and when to get tested for CA 19-9

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo