Pancreatic Cysts

Understanding Pancreatic Cysts

Pancreatic cysts are pockets of fluid on or in the pancreas, an accessory organ of the digestive system that produces digestive enzymes and hormones. Most pancreatic cysts are not cancerous and usually do not produce symptoms. Some, however, may be precursors to pancreatic cancer.

Since pancreatic cancer frequently goes undetected, once pancreatic cysts are found (usually during an unrelated imaging exam such as a CT scan or MRI), your physician may need to take a sample of the fluid in the cyst to check for pre-cancerous or cancerous features.

VIDEO: Dr. Stephen Pereira, MD, talks about what you need to know about pancreatic cysts




Risk Factors

What causes pancreatic cysts?  
- Non-cancerous Cysts

  • Pancreatitis (an irritation from digestive enzymes)
  • An injury to the abdomen
  • Rare illnesses –such as von Hippel-Landau disease

- Pre-cancerous or Cancerous Cysts

  • Genetic mutations
  • Certain disease conditions
  • Rare illnesses - such von Hippel-Lindau disease
What are the effects of pancreatic cysts?
  • Persistent abdominal pain that may radiate to the back
  • A mass that can be felt in the upper abdomen
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Weak and rapid heartbeat
  • Vomiting of blood
  • Jaundice
  • Enlarged gallbladder
Who is susceptible to getting pancreatic cysts? 
- Non Cancerous cysts (pseudocysts)
  • Heavy users of alcohol
  • Individuals who have episodes of gallstones
- Pre-cancerous or Cancerous cysts
  • Those who have genetic mutations or certain hereditary factors
  • Long-term smokers
  • Individuals with long-term diabetes
  • Those with chronic bouts of pancreatitis
  • Patients who have had pancreatitis
  • Previous sustained injury or trauma to the abdomen

Only a physician can determine if a pancreatic cyst is cancerous

Since pancreatic cysts usually do not have any symptoms and since pancreatic cancer can spread rapidly, determining whether or not cysts are pre-cancerous or cancerous is important especially if a person is experiencing the previously noted symptoms or risk factors.

Patients should see their physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.