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 main challenge in diagnosis is to determine whether the cyst might become cancerous. These procedures are often used to help with diagnosis and treatment planning:

  • Medical history. Previous abdominal injury or pancreatitis might indicate a pseudocyst.
  • CT scan. This imaging test can provide detailed information about the size and structure of a pancreatic cyst.
  • MRI scan. This imaging test can highlight subtle details of a pancreatic cyst, including whether it has any components that suggest a higher risk of cancer.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound. This test, like MRI, can provide a detailed image of the cyst. Also, 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, 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 women older than 60 and only rarely become cancerous.
  • Mucinous cystadenoma is usually situated in the body or tail of the pancreas and occurs most often in middle-aged women. Mucinous cystadenoma is precancerous, which means it might become cancer if left untreated. Larger cysts might 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. It occurs most often in men and women older than 50. Depending on its location and other factors, IPMN may require surgical removal.
  • Papillary cystic tumor is usually situated in the body or tail of the pancreas and occurs most often in women younger than 35. Also known as papillary cystic neoplasm, it's rare and usually cancerous.
  • Cystic islet cell tumor is mostly solid but can have cystlike components. Cystic islet cell tumors are rare. They can be confused with other pancreatic cysts and may be precancerous or cancerous.
Sept. 19, 2015