Pancreatic Cysts Symptoms and Treatment | MedStar Health

The pancreas is an organ that aids in digestion and hormone production. Pancreatic cysts are sac-like structures filled with pus or liquid that can develop on or inside the pancreas. Most of these cysts are benign (non-cancerous) but, in rare cases, these growths are pre-cancerous or cancerous (malignant).

There are nearly 20 different types of pancreatic cysts. They differ in size, cellular makeup, and location within the pancreas. At MedStar Health, the experienced clinicians in our pancreatic and biliary disease program have the expertise to treat cysts of all types and severity.

What are the symptoms?

Pancreatic cysts may be entirely asymptomatic and discovered only during imaging tests that are performed for other reasons. When symptoms do present, they include:

  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes)
  • A lump that you can feel in your abdomen
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Nausea

They sometimes become infected or rupture, requiring emergency care. Symptoms of rupture or infection include:

  • Fainting
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting blood
  • Extreme abdominal pain

How are they diagnosed?

Your visit to the pancreatic and biliary disease program will begin with a review of your symptoms and medical history.

Pancreatic cysts are typically diagnosed using imagining scans, including MRIs, CT scans, CT/PET scans, and ultrasounds. If more information is needed, your doctor may perform an endoscopic ultrasound (EUS). EUS is a type of imaging test that also allows for the collection blood and tissue samples. These samples give your doctor additional diagnostic information and will allow them to determine whether cancer cells are present.

How are they treated?

The type of treatment required for a pancreatic cyst will depend on cancer risk, cyst type, size, placement, and symptom severity.

A painless and benign cyst may not require any immediate intervention. In this case, your MedStar Health care team will monitor your pancreatic health over time to ensure that there are no concerning changes.

If a cyst is causing you discomfort but does not present a cancer risk, your clinician may drain the cyst. This is done through an endoscopic procedure, meaning that the surgery is performed with small instruments attached to a long, thin tube that is inserted through the mouth.

When a pancreatic cyst presents a cancer risk, or is large or causing significant pain, it may need to be surgically removed. This can typically be accomplished through a minimally invasive laparoscopic or robot-assisted surgery. These minimally invasive techniques reduce risks and speed healing.

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