When pancreatic cancer is suspected, a CT scan is the first imaging study done.

There are three types of CT scan for pancreatic cancer detection.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most vicious cancers because by the time symptoms start presenting, the disease is in an advanced state – making prognosis very grim.

Furthermore there’s no way to screen for this disease, which takes out about 36,000 Americans every year.

Effectiveness of CT Scan for Pancreatic Cancer Detection

“A CT scan is able to detect pancreatic cancers that are two cm or greater, in about 90 percent of the cases,” says Jordan Winter, MD, a hepato-pancreatic-biliary and oncology surgeon and Chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

“It is the best available test for assessing pancreatic cancer,” adds Dr. Winter.

“It is best performed with IV contrast to delineate nearby blood vessels.”

But in some cases, non-contrast (minus the chemical dye) CT is used.

The non-contrast is done on people who have compromised kidney function (the dye would injure the kidneys) or who are allergic to the dye.

Using the dye is very important because it enables visualization of the tumor.

A CT scan without the contrast dye will yield poor sensitivity for pancreatic cancer masses.

No contrast material also means poor specificity for these masses.

CT with intravenous (IV) contrast. The dye is used with a multidetector CT (MDCT), which provides high resolution and very thin “slices” or cross-sections of the patient’s abdomen.

MDCT, then, generates good visualization of an adenocarcinoma – good enough to assist with early detection of pancreatic cancer and even staging of the mass (i.e., how progressed it is).

Due to its level of effectiveness, the multidetector CT scan with dye is the imaging study of choice for the preliminary diagnostics of a patient who’s suspicious for pancreatic cancer – unless, of course, they have kidney failure or a history of allergic reaction to the dye.

MDCT sensitivity?

The multidetector CT scan has a sensitivity ranging from 76 to 92 percent for diagnosing pancreatic cancer.

A misdiagnosis can occur due to the visualized mass seemingly blending in with surrounding functional tissue.

MDCT with contrast dye ha an 80-90 percent accuracy rate at assessing infiltration of a malignant tumor as well as whether or not it can be surgically removed.

But it has limitations at identifying any spread to the liver or lymph nodes, though it’s possible it can achieve this.

Again, people with compromised kidney function or a history of allergy to the dye are not suitable candidates for MDCT with dye.

CT angiography. Also known as pancreatic protocol CT, this helps identify staging and whether or not surgery would be an effective option.

This technology involves several sets of CT scans taken over several minutes.

In short, a CT (computerized tomography) scan can show the pancreas pretty clearly and is a trusted modality when pancreatic cancer is suspected.

In addition to surgical management of pancreatic and related cancers, Dr. Winter treats other upper gastrointestinal malignancies and abdominal tumors. He has authored over 100 peer-reviewed articles, many on pancreatic cancer.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
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ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3397617/ ct scan pancreatic