The pancreas is a small organ in the abdomen, sitting just behind the stomach. Although little, the pancreas is a hormone-generating powerhouse. It's responsible for producing insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar regulation. It also produces different digestive enzymes meant to aid in the breakdown of starches, fats, and proteins.
A damaged pancreas or poor pancreatic function can have major detrimental effects on your health. If you're experiencing abdominal pain or unexplained swelling, your doctor may order an imaging scan for your pancreas.
Why do I need a pancreas scan?
The following symptoms indicate there may be cause for concern with your pancreatic functioning:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Rapid heartbeat
- Unexplained weight loss
- Diarrhea or oily stool.
Any combination of these symptoms, especially if they worsen after eating or drinking, is cause for concern. A pancreatic scan is one of the only ways to thoroughly assess the organ for disease or dysfunction.
What does a pancreatic scan show?
A pancreatic scan produces images of the soft tissue of the pancreas and the surrounding tissues and organs. The following areas are visible on a pancreatic scan:
- The pancreas
- Portions of the stomach
- Fat deposits
- Abdominal muscles
- Parts of the ribs
A pancreatic scan can help radiologists identify and diagnose:
- Swelling or inflammation
Common causes of pancreatic pain
It can be difficult to tell if your pancreas is causing pain you’re experiencing since it's close to so many other abdominal organs. Pancreatic pain generally occurs in the upper abdomen and is often due to pancreatitis.
There are a few reasons why pancreatitis may occur, including:
- Adverse reactions to medication
- Abdominal injury
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Pancreatic cancer
Any prolonged pain in the upper abdomen should be examined by a doctor.
Types of pancreatic scans
There are two scans used to look for pancreas-related issues.
CT scans for the pancreas
A pancreatic CT scan takes a series of X-ray images, and a computer builds detailed images of the different tissues, organs, fat, and blood vessels that surround the pancreas.
A normal pancreatic CT scan will show the pancreas, stomach, fat deposits, and muscles holding the organs in place. Each of these will usually be a solid color and distinguishable from each other.
An abnormal CT scan will show dark spots or shadows in some pancreas areas. These can be signs of tumors, lesions, or inflammation.
MRI for the pancreas
An MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, scan produces images similar to a CT scan. However, an MRI scan of the pancreas uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to get a glimpse into the pancreatic space.
Due to its physical location, the pancreas requires a specialized type of MRI, called a magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MCRP). Since several organs are tightly packed in confined area, it can be challenging to differentiate them from one another. MRCPs can image smaller organs in greater detail.
How much does a pancreatic scan cost?
The cost of a pancreatic scan can range anywhere from $350 to $5,300, but the cost depends on a number of factors. An MRI scan of the pancreas tends to be more expensive than other scans because it is highly specialized. The price also depends on your insurance coverage, deductible, and network status.
How long does a pancreas scan take?
The average pancreatic scan takes approximately 30 to 60 minutes, but it depends on which type of scan you are receiving. CT scans of the pancreas take less time, while an MRI takes longer. If any of the pictures are blurry, the scan may need to be repeated, which will make the process take longer overall.
Find a pancreas scan medical imaging center near me
One of the challenging things about getting a pancreatic scan is finding a reputable imaging center. You can find a quality medical imaging center for a pancreatic scan near you by using scan.com’s scan search tool.