Digestive Health

Pancreatic Cysts and Masses

Unlike cysts in other organs, many of the cysts found in the pancreas can be clinically significant, in that they can cause pain or have the potential to become cancer.  Therefore, it is important to obtain an accurate diagnosis when a pancreatic cyst is suspected or discovered.

Types of Pancreatic Cysts

Pseudocysts: A pseudocyst is a common complication of acute and chronic pancreatitis. Pseudocysts are not true cysts because the lining that comprises the cyst is not made up of true pancreatic cells, but rather the scar tissue formed by surrounding organs when pancreatic fluid leaks during acute injury.

In patients with cysts who do not have a history of acute or chronic pancreatitis, these are less likely to be pseudocysts and therefore require further clinical attention. 

Benign Cysts: These are cysts without any malignant potential and include serous cystadenomas, lymphoepithelial and simple cysts.

Malignant Cysts: These are cysts that harbor cancer or have the potential to become cancer. They are characterized by cells that secrete mucinous material into the cyst. These cysts can be classified into two categories: mucinous cystic neoplasms and intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms. 

When such cysts are discovered, it is important to seek out an evaluation by a specialist who can determine the most appropriate tests and management strategy.   Depending on several factors, the treatment can involve surgery, close observation, or reassurance without any further follow-up.

Pancreatic Masses

When a pancreatic mass is discovered, further evaluation is necessary to assess for the possibility of cancer.  When cancer is diagnosed, it is important to obtain a prompt evaluation by an experienced multi-disciplinary cancer team. Stanford’s world renowned Cancer Center has extensive experience in treating pancreatic cancer.

Not all masses are cancer.  In some cases, a mass in the pancreas can represent a collection of inflammatory cells from chronic pancreatitis, autoimmune disease, infections, or other systemic disorders.   Because of these possibilities, it is important that the correct diagnosis be made when a new pancreatic mass is found.

The Benign Pancreas Program at Stanford has the expertise and experience to provide the correct diagnosis and treatment for pancreatic cysts and masses.

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