Imaging scans for pancreatic cancer
Tests that create pictures of the inside of the body are known as imaging scans. Different scans can provide different details about the cancer. You will usually have at least one of the following imaging scans during diagnosis and treatment.
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|Before having scans, tell the doctor if you have any allergies or have had a reaction to contrast during previous scans. You should also let them know if you have diabetes or kidney disease or are pregnant.|
An ultrasound uses soundwaves to create a picture of the inside of your body. An ultrasound of your abdomen will show the pancreas and the surrounding area, including your liver. It can show if a tumour is present and its size.
You will lie on your back for the procedure. A gel will be spread onto your abdomen and a small device called a transducer will be moved across the area. The transducer creates soundwaves that echo when they meet something solid, such as an organ or tumour. A computer turns these echoes into pictures. The ultrasound is painless and takes about 15–20 minutes.
Most people suspected of having pancreatic cancer will have a CT (computerised tomography) scan. This scan uses x-ray beams to create detailed, cross-sectional pictures of the inside of your body.
A CT scan is usually done at a hospital or a radiology clinic. Before the scan, a liquid dye called contrast is injected into a vein to help make the pictures clearer. This may cause you to feel hot all over and may give you a strange taste in your mouth. These reactions are temporary and usually go away in a few minutes.
The CT scanner is large and round like a doughnut. You will need to lie still on a table while the scanner moves around you. The scan itself is painless and takes only a few minutes, but the preparation can take 10–30 minutes.
An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to create detailed cross-sectional pictures of the pancreas and nearby organs. An MRCP (magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography) is a different type of MRI scan that produces more detailed images and can be used to check the common bile duct for a blockage (obstruction).
An MRI or MRCP takes about an hour and you will be able to go home when it is over. Before the scan, you may be asked not to eat or drink (fast) for a few hours. You may also be given an injection of dye to highlight the organs in your body.
During the scan, you will lie on a treatment table that slides into a large metal tube that is open at both ends. The noisy, narrow machine makes some people feel anxious or claustrophobic. If you think you will be distressed, mention this beforehand to your doctor or nurse. You may be given medicine to help you relax, and you will usually be offered headphones or earplugs. Also let the doctor or nurse know if you have a pacemaker or any other metallic object in your body, as this can interfere with the scan.
MRIs for pancreatic cancer are not always covered by Medicare. If this test is recommended, check with your treatment team what you will have to pay.
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Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Head of Department, Medical Oncology, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; Marion Bamblett, Nurse Unit Manager, Cancer Centre, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Prof Katherine Clark, Clinical Director of Palliative Care, Northern Sydney Local Health District Cancer and Palliative Care Network, and Conjoint Professor, Northern Clinical School, The University of Sydney, NSW; Lynda Dunstone, Consumer; Kate Graham, Accredited Practising Dietitian – Upper GI Dietitian, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Gina Hesselberg, Radiation Oncologist, St George Hospital Cancer Centre, NSW; Dr Marni Nenke, Endocrinologist and Mary Overton Early Career Research Fellow, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; A/Prof Nicholas O’Rourke, Head of Hepatobiliary Surgery, Royal Brisbane Hospital and The University of Queensland, QLD; Rose Rocca, Senior Clinical Dietitian – Upper GI, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Gail Smith, Consumer. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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