Diagnosing Chronic Pancreatitis
Diagnosing CP can range from routine in those with severe disease and obvious calcifications on CT imaging to elusive in those patients with early changes in CP. The workup of suspected CP should follow a progressively noninvasive to more invasive STEP-wise approach in a patient with a suspicious clinical presentation and risk factors that raise their pretest probability of disease.
After a thorough history and physical examination, basic laboratories should be obtained such as lipase, amylase, metabolic panel, and indirect PFTs (fecal elastase-1, serum trypsin). Computed tomography remains the best initial imaging modality to obtain as it has good sensitivity for severe CP and may obviate the need for other diagnostic tests.
When equivocal, an MRCP should be obtained for a more detailed evaluation of the both the pancreatic parenchyma and ducts. If the diagnosis remains in doubt, EUS should be performed with or without pancreas function testing. ERCP remains a last-line diagnostic test and seldom should be used outside of therapeutic purposes. Future advances should target optimizing current diagnostic tools to more accurately diagnose early CP, as it is in this population where the benefits of delaying progression of CP may have the most profound effect.
Likely the best way at establishing a diagnosis in these patients is via pancreatic function testing in the setting of indeterminate EUS results. Biomarker studies of pancreas fluid may supplement diagnosis.