The diagnosis and management of pancreatic cystic lesions is a common problem. At least 1% of hospitalized patients at major medical centers will have a pancreatic cystic lesion on cross sectional imaging. Up to a quarter of all pancreata examined in an autopsy series contained a pancreatic cyst, 16% of which were lined by an “atypical” epithelium and 3% of which had progressed to carcinoma-in-situ (high grade dysplasia). in the past, it was thought these cystic lesions were benign, but increasing evidence points to the cystic lesions as being the origin of some pancreatic malignancies.
The most important clinical tools in the diagnosis and management of pancreatic cystic lesions are cross sectional imaging, endoscopic ultrasound, and cyst fluid analysis. The most important differential diagnosis is distinguishing mucinous (pre-malignant) and non-mucinous cystic lesions. The findings of a macrocystic lesion containing viscous fluid rich in CEA are supportive of a diagnosis of a mucinous lesion. Serous lesion are the most common non-mucinous cyst and are characterized by a microcystic morphology, non-viscous fluid and a low concentration of CEA in the cyst fluid.
The following document includes a description of neoplastic pancreatic cysts, a critical review of relevant diagnostic tests, and a discussion of treatment options. We have proposed a set of guidelines for the diagnonis and management of patients with neoplastic pancreatic cysts. The guidelines are based on published data backed by an analysis of the quality of the data and are designed to address the most frequent and important clinical scenarios. In addition to providing a summary of the diagnostic data, we offer diagnostic and management suggestions based on 13 common clinical problems. Although the field is rapidly evolving, a set of core principles is provided based on a balance between the risk of malignancy and the benefit of pancreatic resection.
1VA Pittsburgh Health Care System & Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and 2GI Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
Reprint requests and correspondence: William Brugge, M.D., F.A.C.G., GI Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST The authors have no potential conflicts of interest.
Received November 28, 2006; accepted June 21, 2007.