Pancreatic Cysts: Benign, Pre-Cancerous, or Cancerous

Cysts in the Pancreas

By Tony Subia

About 80% of pancreatic cysts are benign. About 20% are either precancerous or cancerous. Today, a greater number pancreas cysts are diagnosed due to advanced imaging technology and many are discovered accidentally while scanning the abdomen area for other medical issues. Therefore, often, precancerous cysts are found before becoming cancerous.

What Are Pancreas Cysts?

There are differing types of pancreatic cysts. Many are technically not cysts at all, but pockets of noncancerous fluid with inflammatory or scar tissue. Cysts found in the pancreas can fall into the following categories:

Serous Cystadenoma. Rarely cancerous, but can become large enough to cause abdominal pain and a feeling of fullness. Fortunately, most discovered pancreatic cysts are of this type.

Mucinous Cystadoma. Typically located in the tail or body of the pancreas. The larger the cyst is, the more likely it is cancerous.

Mucinous Duct Ectasia. This type is most often found in the head of the pancreas and is most common in men. It is usually precancerous or is already cancerous when discovered.

Papillary Cystic Tumor. Most common among women and typically located in the body or tail of the pancreas. They are generally cancerous.

Cancerous, Precancerous, or Benign?

The type of cyst is based upon certain indicators such as size, location, characteristics. The doctor may want to take a sample of the cyst fluid to determine whether cancer cells are present or precancerous conditions exist . If the tumor is precancerous or malignant and has not spread beyond the pancreas, surgical removal is necessary. Precancerous cysts left unabated most likely become cancerous in the future.

A Must Read Article

Read this success story titled “Doctors Aim To Stop Pancreatic Cancer Before It Forms” published by the Baltimore Sun. Paula Rimes, a young 41 year-old had screening prior to having her gallbladder removed. A pancreatic cyst was accidentally discovered during area scans. Doctors did not deem the cyst as a serious concern, but kept a watchful eye over the cyst over a few years.

When it started enlarging she was advised to seek a second opinion. During web research, Paula chose Johns Hopkins Pancreatic Cancer Center for that second opinion. A round of tests were performed including an MRI, a CT scan, endoscopy and a biopsy. Johns Hopkins confirmed the pancreatic cyst was of the type that grows within the pancreatic ducts and most often eventually develops into cancer of the pancreas.

The second opinion likely saved her life since the cyst was discovered before it inevitably would have turned into pancreatic cancer. She had Whipple surgery where the head of the pancreas, the small intestine and a common bile duct were removed.

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