Learn about pancreatic cysts from Dr. Eric Johnson
Most people who have a pancreatic cyst, don’t even know they do. That’s because many types of pancreatic cysts don’t cause any symptoms. In fact, 10-15 percent of diagnoses occur during stomach imaging tests being performed for different reasons.
Understanding the pancreas
The pancreas is a gland that functions in the digestive and endocrine systems. As part of the digestive system, it produces enzymes that help the body break down food. In the endocrine system—which regulates things like metabolism, growth and development, sleep and mood—the pancreas produces the hormone insulin to control blood sugar.
Several types of pancreatic cysts exist:
- A cyst that can becomes large enough to displace nearby organs but only rarely becomes cancerous
- A cyst that is considered precancerous, and if large when found, may already be cancerous
- A cyst in the main duct or one of the side branches that is usually precancerous or cancerous
- A benign pocket of fluid lined with scar or inflammatory tissue that is the most commonly diagnosed pancreatic growth
- A rare malignancy, also known as a Frantz tumor, that is an unusual form of pancreatic carcinoma
Diagnosis and treatment
Since cross sectional imaging often cannot determine the specific type of cyst or its potential to be cancerous, Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS) is used to sample a cyst’s fluid to better identify the type of cyst and likelihood of cancer formation.
From the EUS results as well as the location and imaging characteristics of a cyst, physicians can establish management options. A benign cyst can usually be left alone as long as it isn’t bothering the patient. Most other types of cysts should be monitored for growth, and patients and their physicians should look for development of symptoms such as:
- Persistent abdominal pain
- A mass that can be felt in the upper abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
If a cyst does become cancerous or extremely disruptive to a person’s life, surgical removal is the current treatment. However, studies are being conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of less-invasive, non-surgical treatments.
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