Posted on Jan 04, 2021
Symptoms of the disease are often vague, especially in the earlier stages, and can mimic other less threatening conditions leading to a missed or misdiagnosis.
One study found the misdiagnosis rate for pancreatic cancer to be as high as 31%. The study also showed an average delay in treatment of 3-months for those misdiagnosed. Fortunately, advances in medical imaging are helping doctors detect pancreatic cancer earlier and more accurately. But differentiating between the different types of pancreatic lesions, and determining their potential to be cancerous, is complex and requires the expertise of a subspecialty radiologist.
We spoke with Dr. Trevor Morrison, an Assistant Professor of Radiology in Body Imaging for the Boston University School of Medicine, to learn how patients can help ensure an accurate diagnosis. From the benefits of a second opinion to common questions patients have about their imaging results, Dr. Morrison shares advice for patients navigating a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
1. Accurate Staging
Accurate staging of pancreatic cancer is crucial for treatment planning. It plays a critical role in determining whether a patient is a surgical candidate and provides vital information as to whether other treatments need to be pursued. Getting this information correct at the beginning expedites the treatment process, preventing delays that can potentially be life-threatening.
Specialists are much more familiar with identifying where the cancer is located, if or where it has spread, and whether it is affecting other parts of the body. A second opinion from a radiologist with expertise in imaging of the pancreas helps confirm the stage of cancer has been correctly identified.
2. Correct Identification of the Type of Pancreatic Cancer
There are several cancers that occur in the pancreas, many with subtle differences that can aid in providing a specific diagnosis. A subspecialty second opinion allows you to confirm that a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is correct.
3. Peace of Mind
No doctor is perfect, and even the best doctors and radiologists miss things on occasion. Having a second set of eyes on a study can be tremendously beneficial.
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Pancreatic cancer can often have very subtle findings on imaging. Sometimes, you cannot even see the tumor on conventional imaging. In such cases, you need to look for secondary signs within and surrounding the pancreas. Without detailed subspecialist knowledge and training, it can be easy to miss or misdiagnose pancreatic findings. Conditions pancreatic cancer may be mistaken for include: acute and chronic pancreatitis, fatty change of the pancreas, and duodenitis.
There are also noncancerous lesions that can occur in the pancreas. Distinguishing between the different types presents another challenge for radiologists, as determining a lesion’s nature requires a level of familiarity. Both benign pancreatic cysts and pancreatic pseudocysts, for example, share similar characteristics with malignant tumors on imaging. A subspecialty second opinion is an opportunity to ensure an accurate pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
When pancreatic cancer is suspected, doctors rely heavily on medical imaging to diagnose, stage, and monitor treatment. But navigating this information can be difficult and scary. Imaging reports are confusing and lack of face-to-face time with a radiologist can leave a lot of questions unanswered.
Getting a second opinion from DocPanel empowers people with an opportunity to discuss their concerns and get the answers they deserve. We asked Dr. Morrison to share some of the questions he most commonly hears from second opinion patients.
1) What do all the technical terms in my radiology report mean?
Radiology lingo can often be very confusing, especially to those without medical training. Many patients request second opinions to get the results of their exams in layman's terms so that they can enhance their understanding of the findings and next steps.
2) How can I be sure a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is accurate?
Some patients just simply want a second set of eyes on their imaging to ensure that all of the information is accurate and precise. A second opinion can provide peace of mind that your pancreatic cancer diagnosis is correct.
3) Has the tumor spread outside of the pancreas?
Patients often want to know if the tumor is getting out of the pancreas and what that means in the long run. Medical imaging reviewed by a subspecialist can help determine the location of a tumor and whether it has spread.
4) Why have additional imaging tests been recommended?
If another test or treatment has been recommended, patients often want to know why and what additional information will be gained.
5) I have questions that I’m not sure how to find the answers to.
Lastly, many patients just want to have their questions answered, in layman's terms and written format, so that they can read and process at their own pace.
While a pancreatic cancer diagnosis may create a sense of urgency, making you feel the need to start treatment immediately, there is almost always time to get a second opinion. There are also benefits in getting a second opinion on non-malignant pancreatic cyst findings. Though the majority of pancreatic cysts are benign, some are precancerous and have the potential to develop into pancreatic cancer. An accurate diagnosis is crucial for determining the best course of action.