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Pancreas Scan

What is a pancreas scan?

A pancreas scan is a radiology test used to check the pancreas for a certain type of tumor.

The pancreas is a long, narrow organ. It is located across the back of the belly (abdomen), behind the stomach. The pancreas has both digestive and hormonal functions:

  • It secretes enzymes that help with digestion.

  • It secretes the hormones insulin and glucagon. These help control blood sugar levels.

A pancreas scan is a type of nuclear radiology test. This means that a tiny amount of radioactive material is used to help check the pancreas. The radioactive material is injected into a vein. A pancreas scan may also be used to treat certain pancreatic cancer tumors.

Once the radioactive material reaches the area being checked, it sends out a type of radiation called gamma radiation. The gamma rays are found by a special scanner. The scanner then makes an image of the tumor.

Other related tests that may be used to diagnose pancreas problems include:

  • MRI of the pancreas

  • CT scan of the abdomen or pancreas

  • ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography)

Why might I need a pancreas scan?

A pancreas scan may be done to screen for primary or metastatic cancer of the pancreas. It may also be used to assess your response to therapy for pancreatic cancer, or to check the course of the cancer.

There may be other reasons for your healthcare provider to recommend a pancreas scan.

What are the risks of a pancreas scan?

The amount of radioactive material injected into your vein for this test is very small and considered safe. The injection may cause some slight discomfort. Allergic reactions to the radioactive material are rare but may occur.

For some people, having to lie still on the scanning table for the whole test may cause some discomfort or pain.

Tell your healthcare provider if you are allergic to or sensitive to any medicines, contrast dyes, or latex.

Tell your provider if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant. Also tell your provider if you are breastfeeding.

There may be other risks depending on your specific health condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your provider before the test.

Certain things may make a pancreas scan less accurate. These include:

  • Having a radioactive substance in your body from a past nuclear medicine test within a certain period of time

  • Having barium in the GI (gastrointestinal) tract from a recent barium test

How do I get ready for a pancreas scan?

Your healthcare provider will explain the test to you. Ask any questions you have about the test.

  • You will be asked to sign a consent form that gives your permission to do the test. Read the form carefully. Ask questions if something is not clear.

  • Metal objects, such as rings or jewelry, should be left at home or removed before the scan.

  • Follow any directions you are given for not eating or drinking before the test.

  • Tell your provider if you are sensitive to or allergic to any medicines, latex, tape, and anesthesia medicines (local and general).

  • Tell your provider about all the medicines you take. This includes both over-the-counter and prescription medicines. It also includes vitamins, herbs, and other supplements.

  • Tell your provider if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.

  • Tell your provider if you are breastfeeding.

Your healthcare provider may have other instructions for you based on your health condition.

What happens during a pancreas scan?

A pancreas scan may be done on an outpatient basis. This means you go home the same day. Or it may be done as part of a hospital stay. This may vary depending on your condition and your provider’s practices.

Generally, a pancreas scan follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that may interfere with the test.

  2. If you are asked to remove clothing, you will be given a gown to wear.

  3. An IV (intravenous) line will be started in the hand or arm for injection of the radiopeptide.

  4. The radiopeptide will be injected into your vein. It will be allowed to concentrate in the pancreas tissue.

  5. You will be asked to lie still on a scanning table, as any movement may affect the quality of the scan.

  6. The scanner will be placed over your belly to find the gamma rays sent out by the radiopeptide in the pancreas tissue.

  7. You may be repositioned during the scan to get views of all the surfaces of the pancreas.

  8. When the scan is done, the IV line will be removed.

The pancreas scan itself causes no pain. But you may have some discomfort or pain from having to lie still for the entire scan. This is particularly true if you have had a recent injury. Or if you have had an invasive procedure, such as surgery. The technologist will use all possible comfort measures. They will finish the scan as quickly as possible to reduce any discomfort or pain.

What happens after a pancreas scan?

You should move slowly when getting up from the scanner table. This will help prevent any dizziness or lightheadedness you may feel from lying flat during the whole test.

You may be told to drink plenty of fluids and empty your bladder often for about 24 hours after the test. This will help flush the remaining radionuclide from your body.

The IV site will be checked for any signs of redness or swelling. Call your healthcare provider if you have any pain, redness, or swelling at the IV site when you are home. This may mean you have an infection or other type of reaction.

You may go back to your normal diet and activities unless your provider advises you differently. Your provider may give you other instructions after the test, depending on your particular situation.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or procedure, make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure

  • The reason you are having the test or procedure

  • What results to expect and what they mean

  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure

  • What the possible side effects or complications are

  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure

  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are

  • What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure

  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about

  • When and how you will get the results

  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems

  • How much you will have to pay for the test or procedure

Medical Reviewers:

  • Marianne Fraser MSN RN
  • Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
  • Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN