- Illustration shows the pancreas
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- Pancreatic cysts are sac-like pockets of fluid on or in your pancreas. The pancreas is a large organ behind the stomach that produces hormones and enzymes that help digest food. Pancreatic cysts are usually found during imaging tests for another problem.
The main categories of pancreatic cysts can be divided into two groups, non-neoplastic or neoplastic cysts. Each group includes many different subtypes of cysts, such as pseudocysts, serous cystadenomas, and mucinous cystic neoplasms. Most are not cancerous and many do not cause symptoms. But some pancreatic cysts can or become cancerous.
Your doctor may take a sample of the pancreatic cyst fluid to see if cancer cells are present. Or your doctor may recommend that you monitor a cyst over time for changes that indicate cancer.
You may not have symptoms of pancreatic cysts, which are often seen on abdominal imaging for another reason.
When signs or symptoms of pancreatic cysts appear, they usually include:
- Persistent abdominal pain that may radiate down your back
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
- Feel full soon after you eat
The cause of most pancreatic cysts is unknown. Some cysts are linked to rare diseases, including polycystic kidney disease or von Hippel-Lindau disease, a genetic disorder that can affect the pancreas and other organs.
Pseudocysts often follow a painful episode in which digestive enzymes become active prematurely and irritate the pancreas (pancreatitis). Pseudocysts can also result from an injury to the abdomen such as a car accident.
Excessive alcohol consumption and gallstones are risk factors for pancreatitis, and pancreatitis is a risk factor for pseudocysts. Abdominal damage is also a risk factor for pseudocysts.
The best way to avoid pseudocysts is to avoid pancreatitis, which is usually caused by gallstones or heavy drinking. If gallstones cause pancreatitis, your gallbladder may need to be removed. If your pancreatitis was due to alcohol consumption, not drinking may lower your risk.