Stages of Pancreatic Cancer

We will use your diagnostic tests to determine whether you have a benign (noncancerous) cyst, a precancerous lesion, or a malignant (cancerous) tumor.

If your tumor is malignant, we’ll use information from your diagnostic tests to determine the stage of your cancer. This is the extent to which the tumor has grown in the pancreas and whether it has spread to other areas of your body. It helps us determine the best treatment approach for you.

There are four stages of pancreatic cancer:

  • Stage I: The tumor is less than two centimeters across (roughly the size of a quarter) and completely contained within the pancreas.
  • Stage II: The tumor has begun to grow outside of the pancreas but has not invaded a major blood vessel. Stage II pancreatic cancer may have spread to nearby lymph nodes but not to farther locations in the body.
  • Stage III: The tumor is growing outside of the pancreas and has moved into nearby large blood vessels or major nerves.
  • Stage IV: The cancer has spread to parts of the body considered far from the pancreas, such as the liver or inner lining of the abdomen (called the peritoneum).

Laparotomy and Laparoscopy to Stage Pancreatic Cancer

Our doctors often use a surgery called laparotomy as a part of the staging process.

In this procedure, a surgeon makes a small cut in the abdomen to view the extent of a pancreatic tumor. This will allow him or her to determine whether the tumor can be removed successfully without putting your health at unnecessary risk.

Memorial Sloan Kettering surgeons pioneered the use of an alternative to the laparotomy for pancreatic cancer, called a laparoscopy. It is minimally invasive, which means no large incision is needed. For this procedure, a surgeon inserts a laparoscope — a thin, lighted tube with a camera on its tip through a tiny cut in your abdomen to view the pancreas and surrounding organs.

Recovery from laparoscopy is much faster than from open surgery. This allows you to begin treatments such as chemotherapy with little if any delay.