I am a 38 year old man and I’ve recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and have been referred for tests for cancer staging. Could you explain what this means?
Mr Andrew Smith, Consultant General Surgeon, Spire Leeds Hospital
Once a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer has been made there are two areas that your specialist will sort out: firstly, control of your symptoms and secondly, staging of your cancer. Most pancreatic cancer patients initially have vague symptoms. However by the time of diagnosis they may have had significant weight loss, developed abdominal and/or back pain and in some cases turned yellow (become jaundiced). Your specialist would immediately concentrate on treating these symptoms and this may require a hospital admission.
Staging of pancreatic cancer means finding out the extent of the disease, which dictates how we can treat the cancer. Standard pancreatic cancer staging involves a CT scan – this can be performed as an outpatient. If the scan shows cancer only within the pancreas then it might be possible to remove the tumour by surgery. In most cases unfortunately the scan will show the disease in the pancreas but also spread (metastases) to other sites, commonly the liver. When this is the case surgery is not possible and patients would be referred to an oncologist to discuss chemotherapy.
Pancreatic cancer patients need to be seen in a specialist centre as care often involves several specialists. Further information on specialist centres and pancreatic cancer can be found at www.pancsoc.org.uk and www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk