Common misdiagnosis of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic Cancer Action
Patient Information Booklets

What is Pancreatic cancer and how is it diagnosed?

This booklet for patients and carers describes pancreatic cancer, its causes and symptoms. It gives detailed information on the diagnostic tests used and the stages of pancreatic cancer. It includes a section on what to ask your doctor, where to go for further information and a glossary to explain many of the terms used.

Pancreatic cancer can be a difficult condition to diagnose. Symptoms of the disease can be vague and therefore mistaken for other conditions which are more common.

Studies have found that pancreatic cancer is sometimes misdiagnosed as conditions including:

  • Gallbladder disease (any condition affecting your gallbladder, for example, gallstones)  
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (heartburn and reflux)  
  • Peptic ulcer (sore area in the stomach, oesophagus or small intestine)  
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)   
  • Muscular pain   
  • Diverticulitis (inflammation or infection in the intestines)   

Misdiagnosis of pancreatic cancer can delay getting a correct diagnosis in time for surgery. Patients who are misdiagnosed also have, on average, more visits to their GP and more diagnostic tests. 

This increases the risk of pancreatic cancer being diagnosed late. To help your doctor correctly diagnose your condition, you may find it helpful to record how you feel and raise awareness of pancreatic cancer using our symptoms diary.

Sources and references for this information product will be supplied on request. Please contact us quoting the Information Product number below:

Information Product № Published 30/03/2020
Last Updated 02/07/2024 Next Review Due 26/06/2027