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Pancreatic cysts are pockets or sacs of fluid that are either on or inside your pancreas. Your pancreas is an organ in your abdomen that makes enzymes that help you digest food and insulin, a hormone that helps control the way your body processes sugar (glucose). Most pancreatic cysts aren't cancerous, and many don't cause symptoms.
Pancreatic Cysts: What You Need to Know
The best way to avoid a pseudocyst, the most common type of pancreatic cyst, is to avoid pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is usually caused by gallstones or heavy alcohol use. If gallstones trigger your pancreatitis, you may need to have your gallbladder surgically removed (called cholecystectomy). Drinking less or no alcohol also can reduce your risk of pancreatitis.
The University of Vermont Medical Center offers specialized services to diagnose and treat pancreatic cysts, including endoscopy and endoscopic ultrasound.
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We are the largest and most comprehensive digestive disease specialty group in Vermont and northeastern New York with two subspecialists board certified in endoscopic ultrasound.
What are Pancreatic Cysts?
Some pancreatic cysts aren't truly cysts. A pseudocyst is the most common type of pancreatic cyst. However, technically it isn't a cyst because it is a noncancerous pocket of fluid that's lined with either scar or inflammatory tissue, which isn't the type of cells found in a true cyst.
Although a pseudocyst is noncancerous, some pancreatic cysts can be cancerous. Your doctor may want to take a sample of the pancreatic cyst fluid to see if it has cancer cells.
Other types of pancreatic cysts include:
- Mucinous cystadenoma usually happens in middle-aged women and is found in the body or tail of the pancreas. Mucinous cystadenoma is precancerous, which means it may become cancer if left untreated. Larger cysts may already be cancerous when found.
- Serous cystadenoma happen most frequently in middle-aged women and rarely become cancerous. Sometimes this pancreatic cyst gets big enough to move nearby organs, which causes abdominal pain and a feeling of fullness.
- 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. You may need surgery to remove IPMN depending on its location and other factors.
- Cystic islet cell tumor is mostly solid but can have cyst-like parts and may be precancerous or cancerous. Sometimes a cystic islet cell tumor is confused with other pancreatic cysts.
- Papillary cystic tumor happens most often in young women and is usually located in the body or tail of the pancreas. Also known as papillary cystic neoplasm, or solid and pseudopapillary neoplasm, it is usually cancerous.
Many pancreatic cysts don't cause symptoms, but if they do they typically include:
- Persistent abdominal pain, which can stretch all the way to your back
- A lump you can feel in your upper abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
The exact cause of pancreatic cysts is often unknown. Genetic mutations can cause cancerous cysts, and pancreatitis can cause pseudocysts.
Diagnosis and Treatment: Pancreatic Cysts
Learn more about pancreatitis diagnosis and treatment.
Find a doctor or specialist at The UVM Medical Center or call 802-847-8865.