Is there a tumor marker for pancreatic cancer?

Ajay K. Sahajpal, MD
Transplant Surgery
Yes, for pancreatic adenocarcinoma a typical tumor marker is CA 19-9 and for neuroendocrine tumors it depends on the subtype of hormone being produced such as insulin or glucagon.
We don’t have a good tumor marker for pancreatic cancer. CA 19-9 is the only one that’s out there that has any relevancy, but it can be elevated in cases of chronic pancreatitis and elevated in people with emphysema. It can also be elevated in people who are markedly jaundiced with a gallstone. So, I think it’s an important adjunct to decision-making, but I’ve never not operated on a patient because their CA 19-9 level was not very high.

Certainly it’s ominous when you see the tumor marker get really high, say over 600, or certainly over 1,000. But it’s just not a reliable enough test right now to predicate decision-making upon that value. I do think it has value in terms of looking at how people respond after their tumor has been destroyed. But I’m not sure it’s a decision-making tool in terms of who you’re going to operate on, like PSA might be in some people with prostate cancer.

Continue Learning about Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer

Often asymptomatic in the beginning, pancreatic cancer is very difficult to diagnose and typically spreads rapidly to other parts of the body.Cancer occurs when abnormal cells form in the lining of the pancreas, an organ of the en...

docrine system that is responsible for making enzymes for digestion and for producing certain hormones such as insulin. Even though only 1 in 76 people develop this disease, it is the fourth deadliest type of cancer and is difficult to cure. No one knows what causes pancreatic cancer, and even the few known risk factors are not fully understood. Visit your doctor if you have unexplained weight loss, a loss of appetite, abdominal pain that radiates up your back, or a yellow tint to your eyes or skin.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.