Pancreatic Cysts

What is Pancreatic Cysts?

Pancreatic Cysts are liquid-filled growths that are usually benign. They are sometimes caused by pancreatitis. More often than not they are found simply by chance during CT scans, MRIs, and other imaging methods. Although most are harmless they can become cancerous. Around 20 different types exist. That is why it is important to find out what kind they are and whether or not they pose a threat.

What are the Symptoms of Pancreatic Cysts?

Most of the time pancreatic cysts do not generate signs or symptoms. Those that do usually include:

  • Unrelenting abdominal pain that might spread to the back
  • A palpable mass in the upper abdominal region
  • Queasiness and vomiting

When symptoms are more severe they may also include:

  • Fever
  • Fainting spells
  • Confusion
  • Fast and weakened heartbeat
  • Bloody vomit

Pancreatic Cysts Causes

It usually isn’t clear why pancreatic cysts occur, but different types of cysts seem to affect different demographics. This suggests that genetics, age and gender-specific anatomy could all factor into the cause.

Serous cysts and mucinous cysts tend to occur most often in middle-aged women, which suggests that they are caused by age-related factors and biological factors related to the female anatomy. However, it isn’t completely clear what causes the cysts to form.

Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm (IPMN) cysts tend to be most common in middle-aged men, but again it isn’t clear why this is or what causes them. Solid pseudopapillary tumor of the pancreas, which is a type of rare tumor with cystic components, tend to be most common in young black and Asian women, which suggests that genetic traits could play a role in the condition.

Pseudocysts, which are lesions which look like cysts but don’t strictly meet the criteria for true cysts, are the only type of pancreatic cyst which appears to have clear causes. Usually they are caused by pancreatitis, which is a condition where digestive enzymes begin to break down the pancreas itself, causing irritation and inflammation. It’s also possible for pseudocysts to occur after abdominal injury, for example if the abdomen sustained trauma during a car accident.

How is Pancreatic Cysts Treated?

Most pancreatic cysts do not require treatment, but it may be necessary to monitor the growths for changes that might be concerning. The only curative treatment is removal, but some cysts can be drained using endoscopy or more direct measures. When surgery is required it may be:

  • Laparoscopic
  • Robot-assisted
  • Open surgery

To prevent additional pancreatic cysts, treatment may include gallstone prevention or removal and limitation of alcoholic beverages.

Pancreatic Cysts Prevention

Since the causes of most pancreatic cysts aren’t clear, it is impossible to know how to prevent them. However, with pseudocysts it may be possible to avoid them by preventing pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis is often caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Those who suffer from repeated bouts of pancreatitis due to alcohol misuse should strive to cut down or quit completely to prevent cysts.

In other cases, pancreatitis is caused by gallstones. People are susceptible to gallstones if they are obese or they eat a rich diet with lots of refined carbohydrates and minimal amounts of fiber. By eating a more balanced diet and losing weight, it may be possible to avoid recurrent episodes of pancreatitis and therefore reduce the risk of pseudocysts.