Lab Tests

Blood Tests for Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

Currently, there is no simple lab test that exists solely to diagnose early pancreatic cancer. However, there are certain blood tests that can support a diagnosis or help your doctor determine treatment if other evidence of cancer is found.

Liver Function Test

The liver function test will look at your bilirubin. If there is a tumor blocking your bile duct, the bilirubin levels in your blood may increase.

The normal range of bilirubin levels is between .3 and 1.3 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter).

CA 19-9

CA 19-9 is a tumor marker commonly associated with pancreatic cancer. The normal range of CA 19-9 is between 0 and 37 U/mL (units/milliliter), but people with pancreatic cancer often have higher levels. Not every pancreatic cancer will cause elevated levels of CA 19-9, and some non-cancerous conditions (like pancreatitis and jaundice) can cause high levels of CA 19-9. This means that a diagnosis cannot be based on CA 19-9 alone.  

Once a diagnosis has been established, however, CA 19-9 can be used to monitor the condition.  Your doctor may take a baseline CA 19-9 level before surgery or before beginning a cycle of chemotherapy. If your levels decrease, that typically indicates the treatment is working.  If your levels rise, that can mean a recurrence of your cancer or that you are no longer responding to your current treatment plan.

Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA)

CEA is another tumor marker associated with pancreatic cancer. The normal amount of CEA in non-smokers is less than 2.5 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter), and in smokers, less than 5.0 ng/mL. 

Like CA 19-9, CEA is best used to monitor progress and treatment response, rather than to establish a diagnosis. Keep in mind that chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause a temporary rise in CEA levels due to increased CEA release by tumor cells that are being destroyed.