Pancreatic cysts are a common condition that usually do not produce any symptoms. Most of the cysts are noncancerous (benign), but they can sometimes be precancerous and can develop into cancer later.

The pancreatic cyst specialists at Miami Cancer Institute have access to a range of innovative technologies to diagnose and treat these cysts, with the goal of creating a personalized plan that effectively treats any side effects and monitors the cysts for advancing disease. 

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What are pancreatic cysts?

Pancreatic cysts are fluid-filled growths that form in the pancreas. The cysts can develop as a result of inflammation in the pancreas.

The pancreas is a gland in the abdomen located between the stomach and intestines. It is made up of two kinds of cells: exocrine cells and endocrine cells. Exocrine cells, which make up the majority of the pancreas, produce enzymes that help the body digest food. Endocrine cells make hormones – including insulin – that control blood sugar levels.

Medical illustration of anatomy of the pancreas

If your doctor suspects you have pancreatic cysts, he or she will test to see what type of cyst it is and may recommend a surveillance program to monitor them for growth.

What are the types of pancreatic cysts?

The most common type of pancreatic cyst is an intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm (IPMN). These cysts form in the ducts between the pancreas and the intestine. They are also the most common precancerous pancreatic cyst.

Other types of pancreatic cysts include:

  • Mucinous cystic neoplasm. These cysts typically develop in women and form in the body and left side (tail) of the pancreas. They are usually precancerous.
  • Solid pseudopapillary neoplasm. These cysts may form into cancer and are usually found in younger women.
  • Serous cystadenomas (SCAs). Almost all SCAs are benign, but they may cause symptoms like jaundice and abdominal pain. They typically have thick, fibrous walls.

What are the risk factors for pancreatic cysts?

Most pancreatic cysts develop for no apparent reason, however, people with pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) are more likely to develop cysts. In some cases, trauma to the stomach area may cause pancreatic cysts.

If you have a family history of pancreatic, stomach, gallbladder or liver cancer, you may have a higher risk of the cysts turning into cancer.

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What can you do to prevent pancreatic cysts?

Because doctors do not know the cause of pancreatic cysts, there is no guaranteed way to lower your risk for developing the cysts. However, since pancreatitis can increase risk of pancreatic cysts, lowering your risk for pancreatitis may lower your risk for pancreatic cysts. This can include:

  • Not smoking or using tobacco. Speak with your doctor if you need help quitting.
  • Reducing the amount of alcohol you drink.
  • Eating a healthy diet, which includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fait dairy. Talk with your doctor or a nutritionist about what you should include in a healthy diet.

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