Stages of pancreatic cancer

The tests for pancreatic cancer not only diagnose the cancer, but help doctors determine the stage of the cancer and the best treatment for you. Staging describes the size of the cancer, and how advanced the cancer is (whether it has spread).

Getting a second opinion

You may have doubts about your diagnosis, may not understand the information you are given; are not happy with the treatment that has been recommended; or you may just want to talk to another doctor or specialist about your diagnosis or treatment.

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.

Treatment decisions are made by an MDT (Multi-Disciplinary Team) team (click for more info). The MDT team discusses what treatment is best for you based on:

  • The stage of your cancer
  • Where it is in the pancreas
  • Your general health and fitness.

The doctors will explain what stage of cancer you have, and then the consequent treatment option/s that are available to you.

Information is likely to be given as to whether you can be considered for surgery or not rather than what stage of cancer you have for example:

  • Resectable: they can remove the tumour through surgery 
  • Borderline resectable: it is less clear whether it can be removed 
  • Unresectable: Surgery is not being considered, this may be locally advanced which means the cancer has spread to nearby organs or it may have spread to more distant organs.

However, knowing what the different stages are may be helpful to understand what your doctor has said to you, how your cancer is presenting itself and how this relates to your treatment option.

There are two main types of staging to describe the size of the cancer. One which uses numbers, stages 1-4, and one that is called the TNM (Tumour-Node-Metastases) staging.

One common way to stage pancreatic cancer:

The second common way to stage pancreatic cancer: The TNM system of staging

TNM system, Tumour, Node and Metastasis. (T) this is referring to the size of the tumour, (N) whether there are lymph nodes with cancer in, (M) this is whether the cancer has spread to various parts of the body.

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Information Product № Published 03/10/2019
Last Updated 21/04/2022 Next Review Due 03/10/2022