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Pancreatic Cysts

Alternative names: Pancreatic Pseudocysts, Serous Cystadenomas, Mucinous Cystic Tumors

What is a pancreatic cyst?
What are the signs of a pancreatic cyst?
What causes a pancreatic cyst?
How does my doctor tell if I have a pancreatic cyst?
How is a pancreatic cyst treated?

What is a pancreatic cyst?

Pancreatic cysts are fluid-filled sacs that form in the pancreas. Most pancreatic cysts are false cysts (pseudocysts) that are not cancerous. These false cysts are most often caused by pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).

Another kind of cyst, a cystic neoplasm, is potentially malignant, or cancerous.

What are the signs of a pancreatic cyst?

Pancreatic pseudocysts usually cause no symptoms, and are often discovered during an ultrasound or abdominal CT scan ordered for other reasons.

What causes a pancreatic cyst?

Pancreatic pseudocysts are most often the result of either short-or long-term pancreatitis.

Cystic neoplasms are caused by abnormal cell growths in the pancreas.

How does my doctor tell if I have a pancreatic cyst?

Pancreatic cysts are most commonly detected during ultrasound or abdominal CT scans ordered for other reasons. Once the cysts have been found, your doctor will want to determine their type. He or she may recommend one or more of these tests:

  • A computerized axial tomography (CT) scan, where an X-ray beam rotates around your body to make the image
  • An endoscopic ultrasound allows your doctor to place an ultrasound probe inside the digestive (GI) tract, very close to an area where you might have problems. These images are far more detailed than those of a traditional ultrasound. You will be given medication to make you relaxed and drowsy, and will need someone to drive you home after the procedure.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) uses a thin, flexible tube with a tiny video camera on the end to find problems in the liver, bile ducts, and pancreas. The test uses X-rays and a liquid dye to locate gallstones, tumors, and other problems. In some cases, these problems can be treated at the same time.
  • A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan uses magnetic beams to make detailed images of your pancreas.
  • Your doctor can analyze the cyst by drawing off some of its fluid with an endoscope - a thin flexible tube with a light and image sensor at its tip - or with a long, thin needle

How is a pancreatic cyst treated?

Pancreatic pseudocysts usually go away without treatment, but sometimes they may grow large enough to require draining. A doctor can use either a long, thin needle, or endoscopic ultrasound to drain the fluid from the cyst.

Because cystic neoplasms can grow into cancer, they are most often removed by surgery.

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