About pancreatic cysts

What is pancreatic cysts?

What is the pancreas?

The pancreas is an organ approximately six inches long that is located in the abdomen behind the stomach and in front of the spine and aorta. The pancreas is divided into three regions; the head, the body, and the tail. The head of the pancreas is located on the right side of the abdomen adjacent to the duodenum. The tail is on the left side of the abdomen, and the body lies between the head and the tail.

There are two parts to the pancreas, referred to as the exocrine and endocrine parts. The majority of the cells of the pancreas produce digestive juices which contain the enzymes necessary for digesting food in the intestine. The enzymes are secreted into smaller collecting ducts within the pancreas (side branches). The side branches empty into a larger duct, the main pancreatic duct, which empties into the intestine through the papilla of Vater in the duodenum. During passage through the ducts, bicarbonate is added to the digestive enzymes to make the pancreatic secretion alkaline. The cells and ducts producing the digestive juices comprise the exocrine part of the pancreas.

Just before the main pancreatic duct enters the duodenum, it usually merges with the common bile duct that collects bile (a fluid that helps to digest fat) produced by the liver. The common bile duct usually joins the pancreatic duct in the head of the pancreas. The union of these two ducts forms the ampulla of Vater which drains both the bile and pancreatic fluid into the duodenum through the papilla of Vater.

Buried within the tissue of the pancreas are small collections of cells, termed the Islets of Langerhans. The cells of the Islets produce several hormones, for example, insulin, glucagon, and somatostatin; that are released into the blood (the islets do not connect with the pancreatic ducts) and travel in the blood to other parts of the body. These hormones have effects throughout the body, for example, insulin, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels. The hormone-secreting portion of the pancreas - the Islets - is the endocrine part of the pancreas.

What are pancreatic cysts?

Pancreatic cysts are collections (pools) of fluid that can form within the head, body, and tail of the pancreas. Some pancreatic cysts are true cysts (non-inflammatory cysts), that is, they are lined by a special layer of cells that are responsible for secreting fluid into the cysts. Other cysts are pseudocysts (inflammatory cysts) and do not contain specialized lining cells. Often these pseudocysts contain pancreatic digestive juices because they are connected to the pancreatic ducts. Pancreatic cysts can range in size from several millimeters to several centimeters. Many pancreatic cysts are small and benign and produce no symptoms, but some cysts become large and cause symptoms, and others are cancerous or precancerous. (Precancerous cysts are benign cysts that have the potential to become cancerous.)

Different types of cysts contain different types of fluids. For example, pseudocysts that form after an attack of acute pancreatitis contain digestive enzymes such as amylase in high concentrations. Mucinous cysts contain mucus (a proteinaceous liquid) produced by the mucinous cells that form the inside lining of the cyst.

What are the symptoms for pancreatic cysts?

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You may not have symptoms from pancreatic cysts, which are often found when imaging tests of the abdomen are done for another reason.

When signs or symptoms of pancreatic cysts do occur, they typically include:

When to see a doctor

Rarely, cysts can become infected. See a doctor if you have a Fever and persistent Abdominal pain.

A ruptured pseudocyst can be a medical emergency, but fortunately is rare. Fluid released by the pseudocyst can damage nearby blood vessels and cause massive bleeding. A ruptured pseudocyst can also cause infection of the abdominal cavity (peritonitis). Seek emergency medical treatment if you have signs or symptoms of internal bleeding and shock, including:

What are the causes for pancreatic cysts?

The cause of most pancreatic cysts is unknown. Some cysts are associated with rare illnesses including von Hippel-Lindau disease, a genetic disorder that can affect the pancreas and other organs.

Pseudocysts often follow a bout of a painful condition in which digestive enzymes become prematurely active and irritate the pancreas (pancreatitis). Pseudocysts can also result from injury to the abdomen, such as from a car accident.

What are the treatments for pancreatic cysts?

Watchful waiting or treatment depends on the type of cyst you have, its size, its characteristics and whether it's causing symptoms.

Watchful waiting

A benign pseudocyst, even a large one, can be left alone as long as it isn't bothering you. Serous cystadenoma rarely becomes cancerous, so it also can be left alone unless it causes symptoms or grows. Some pancreatic cysts should be monitored.


A pseudocyst that is causing bothersome symptoms or growing larger can be drained. A small flexible tube (endoscope) is passed through your mouth to your stomach and small intestine. The endoscope is equipped with an ultrasound probe (endoscopic ultrasound) and a needle to drain the cyst. Sometimes drainage through the skin is necessary.


Some types of pancreatic cysts require surgical removal because of the risk of cancer. Surgery might be needed to remove an enlarged pseudocyst or a serous cystadenoma that's causing pain or other symptoms.

A pseudocyst may recur if you have ongoing pancreatitis.

What are the risk factors for pancreatic cysts?

Heavy alcohol use and gallstones are risk factors for pancreatitis, and pancreatitis is a risk factor for pseudocysts. Abdominal injury is also a risk factor for pseudocysts.

Is there a cure/medications for pancreatic cysts?

Fluid-filled sac-like pockets on or in your pancreas are known as pancreatic cysts. A sizable organ located beyond the stomach called the pancreas makes hormones and enzymes that aid in food digestion.

Typically, pancreatic cysts are discovered during imaging tests for another issue. There are several factors that decide how you deal with a pancreatic cyst, such as the size of the cyst, the type and characteristics, and whether it’s causing symptoms. Based on this, there are three methods:

  • Watchful Waiting: Even a large benign pseudocyst can be left alone if it isn't affecting you. If a serious cystadenoma does not cause symptoms or expand, it can also be left alone because it seldom progresses to malignancy. Some pancreatic cysts need to be watched closely.
  • Drainage: It is possible to remove a pseudocyst that is getting bigger or generating bothersome symptoms. Your mouth is used to insert an endoscope, a small, flexible tube, into your stomach and small intestine. Endoscopic ultrasound (the endoscope's ultrasound probe) and a needle are included for cyst drainage. Sometimes it's important to drain through the skin.
  • Surgery: Due to the possibility of cancer, certain forms of pancreatic cysts need to be surgically removed. An enlarged pseudocyst or a serous cystadenoma that is producing discomfort or other symptoms may require surgery to be removed. If you have persistent pancreatitis, a pseudocyst might come again.

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