Evidence-based diagnosis and staging of pancreatic cancer

Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2006 Apr;20(2):227-51. doi: 10.1016/j.bpg.2005.10.005.


Only 20% of patients who present with pancreatic cancer will be amenable to potentially curative resection. Therefore, it is necessary to reliably identify patients who might benefit from major surgical intervention by employing the appropriate staging methods. In this review, the pros and cons of each imaging technique are discussed and an algorithm for single and combined use of the different imaging modalities is proposed. To date, contrast-enhanced multi-detector row helical CT (MDR-CT) together with endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) remain the first staging methods of choice. MDR-CT has a high sensitivity for identifying vascular invasion and EUS is able to detect lesions as small as 2-3 mm. ERCP is performed mainly in patients with biliary obstruction with the option for therapeutic intervention during the same session. MRI with MR-angiography, MRCP, PET/CT and staging laparoscopy are additional modalities which might give further information in cases of equivocal findings by MDR-CT and EUS. The role of tumour markers such as CA 19-9 and CEA is reserved for monitoring and diagnosing post-surgery recurrence. Cytological or histological confirmation should usually be performed in patients that are not eligible for surgery prior to the commencement of palliative radio- or chemotherapy. In the routine clinical setting, MDR-CT and EUS play the predominant roles by providing the most cost-effective and accurate means for diagnosing and staging most cases of pancreatic cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Biopsy, Fine-Needle
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods*
  • Endoscopy, Digestive System
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Laparoscopy
  • Neoplasm Staging / methods*
  • Pancreas / pathology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / diagnosis*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor