Investigating Symptoms

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 Action
Patient Information Booklets

Control the symptoms of pancreatic cancer

This booklet covers the different procedures used to control pancreatic cancer symptoms with practical information about your hospital visit and returning home. Includes a section about second opinions, clinical trials and questions to ask your doctor and a glossary to explain some of the terms used.

Investigating pancreatic cancer can be a complex process. If you are concerned about your symptoms it may be helpful for you and your GP to track your symptoms using a symptom diary.

When your GP examines you, they may look for jaundice (yellowing of the skin), feel your tummy and send blood or urine samples. If your symptoms include abdominal (tummy) pain, weight loss and jaundice together then you should be referred to hospital as urgent. This does not mean that you definitely have pancreatic cancer, it does mean that your symptoms need investigation quickly.

pancreatic cancer symptoms
symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Testing for pancreatic cancer

Once you have been referred to hospital, you may come into contact with a number of healthcare professionals who each ask for more tests, your personal history and ask you many questions.

This helps to decide what tests you may need. Often people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed after visiting an accident and emergency department. This may be because your symptoms have got worse quickly or started very suddenly.

Whether you are investigated for pancreatic cancer through a GP referral or the hospital, diagnosis is similar. You will be referred to a gastroenterologist or another specialist to carry out tests and try and find out what is causing your symptoms.

Click here for diagnosis investigations in more detail.

Waiting for results

Waiting for test results can be a nervous time and fear of the unknown is understandable and perfectly normal. You may feel anxious and afraid, but you may also feel denial, numb or guilty that they put off going to the doctors for too long and now may be seriously ill.

You may imagine the worst-case scenario and worry about how your friends and family may cope. Waiting, especially for a long time is a difficult experience and the lack of control over your life can cause serious stress and anxiety. Some people say that waiting is the hardest part, in fact research has shown that waiting for test results or a diagnosis makes people feel worse. How to cope during this time of uncertainty depends on you as a person but there are ways of dealing with things so that you are waiting well.

  • It may help you to remember to live in the moment and focus on what you know now and not what might happen next.
  • You could try to find out as much about the possibilities as you can to feel empowered about what is happening to you.
  • Keeping distracted can take your mind off waiting through helping others, physical exercise or hobbies you enjoy may help.
  • When you do have appointments, it may help to bring someone else along with you. They may remember symptoms, questions and information which you have not.
  • Finally, it is important to realise that your feelings are completely normal, you are not being silly or morbid, you are going through a difficult time and you should take time for yourself whenever you need it.

Remember, most of the time symptoms are not due to pancreatic cancer

If you do receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, then you will likely need to have more tests to find out as much as possible about the tumour.

They will use these test results to figure out the stage of the tumour and possible treatments. There will be a multidisciplinary team made up of doctors, nurses and other health professionals in this time who can help you emotionally as well as physically, so feel free to ask them all the questions you have.

Try to keep open communication with friends and loved ones about how you feel and what you’re experiencing. It will help you feel less alone and it is likely that they may be experiencing some of the same feelings as you.

Pancreatic Cancer Action publishes patient information booklets about pancreatic cancer and the treatment at different stages, this information will help you to understand your diagnosis and what happens next.