Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Pancreatic cysts are diagnosed more often than in the past because improved imaging technology finds them more readily. Many pancreatic cysts are found during abdominal scans for other problems.

The biggest challenge during diagnosis is determining whether the pancreatic cyst is cancerous. These procedures are often used to help with diagnosis and to help plan treatment:

  • Medical history. Previous experience of abdominal injury or pancreatitis may indicate a pseudocyst.
  • CT scan. This imaging test can provide detailed information about the structure of a pancreatic cyst.
  • MRI scan. This imaging test can highlight subtle details of a pancreatic cyst, including whether it has any solid components.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound. This test can provide a detailed image of the cyst, and fluid can be collected from the cyst for analysis in a laboratory for possible signs of cancer.

The characteristics and location of the pancreatic cyst, along with your age and sex, can help doctors pinpoint the type of cyst you have:

  • Serous cystadenoma can become large enough to displace nearby organs, causing abdominal pain and a feeling of fullness. Serous cystadenomas occur most frequently in middle-aged women and only rarely become cancerous.
  • Mucinous cystadenoma is usually located in the body or tail of the pancreas and occurs most often in middle-aged women. Mucinous cystadenoma is precancerous, which means it may become cancer if left untreated. Larger cysts may already be cancerous when found.
  • Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm (IPMN) is a growth in the main pancreatic duct or one of its side branches. IPMN may be precancerous or cancerous. Depending on its location and other factors, IPMN may require surgical removal.
  • Papillary cystic tumor is usually located in the body or tail of the pancreas, and occurs most often in young women. Also known as papillary cystic neoplasm, or solid and pseudopapillary neoplasm, it is usually cancerous.
  • Cystic islet cell tumor is mostly solid but can have cyst-like components. Cystic islet cell tumor can be confused with other pancreatic cysts and may be precancerous or cancerous.
Sept. 08, 2012