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Pancreatic Cysts – What Are They?

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Pancreatic cysts are fluid-filled abnormalities in the pancreas. The word “cysts” is used loosely because many of the so-called cysts aren’t really cysts at all. In fact, they are called pseudocysts. Namely, because pseudocysts contain cells - not only from the pancreas - but from organs like the stomach and intestines as well. It is good to know that pseudocysts are almost never cancerous.

Regardless, once tested and it is found that a patient has cysts, a good doctor would want to do even further testing to determine if cysts are malignant or benign. So if you are having constant abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or can actually feel a mass in your upper abdomen, please see a doctor as soon as possible. This is because you want to avoid a cyst (whether pseudocyst or not) from rupturing. A ruptured cyst can cause damage to nearby blood vessels resulting in massive bleeding, reports the Mayo Clinic.

Causes and Risks

Truthfully, most of the time, doctors don’t know what causes pancreatic cysts. Although sometimes, they may connect the cause with certain diseases like pancreatitis – a condition that causes pain and swelling of the pancreas. And as far as risks, research shows that drinking heavily and gallstones increase the risk that leads to pancreatitis and pancreatic cysts.

Diagnosis and Treatment

With improved technology, doctors can determine cysts more readily. When cysts are found, doctors will then isolate what type of cyst is presenting. There are four types:

Mucinous cyst adenoma – precancerous, found in middle-aged women, located in the body or tail of the pancreas

Mucinous duct ectasia – often cancerous, found in men, located in the head of the pancreas

Serous cystadenoma – cancerous only rarely, found in middle-age women, cysts are usually so large that they shift other organs out of the way

Papillary cystic tumor – usually cancerous, but less common; found in young women, located in the body or tail of the pancreas

Naturally, the treatment of the presenting cyst will determine the type of treatment given. Noncancerous cysts, regardless of how large they are, can be left alone. It’s the old, “as long as it’s not bothering you, you don’t bother it” method. The only exception is if they start to cause problems. Then, the patient and doctor involved might revise the approach. And, of course, any cancerous cyst will require surgical removal. The success rate of surgery is very high.

The key to prevention is to avoid pancreatitis – if this is possible. Pancreatitis causes pseudocysts to reappear. So, if an individual is a heavy drinker, get help in order to quit. If suffering from gallstones, your best option may be to have your gallbladder removed. Both of the aforementioned conditions have been proven to cause pancreatitis. The end-goal is to have a better quality of life. It’s possible and can be done by following the instructions from your medical health team.

Resource: Mayo Clinic

Dita Faulkner lives in the southern U.S. and works with at-risk families. She is a freelance writer and engages regularly in community service in her hometown.

Please feel free to read another one of Dita’s articles at:

Add a Comment2 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Is testing the liquid in the cyst the only way to determine the type of cyst it is and if it is precancerous or cancerous? In my case, according to the testing lab, my doctor was unable to extract enough fluid for the lab to test. We are waiting for the cyst to grow.

December 2, 2009 - 8:56am
(reply to Anonymous)


Glad you asked that question. Below you will find the official answer from the Mayo Clinic. I hope this helps.

To determine whether a cyst or tumor is benign or malignant, a sample of the affected tissue — or, in some cases, the entire suspicious area — is removed and studied under a microscope. This is known as a biopsy.

December 2, 2009 - 3:22pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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