Telomerase activity is a useful marker to distinguish malignant pancreatic cystic tumors from benign neoplasms and pseudocysts

J Surg Res. 1999 Dec;87(2):171-7. doi: 10.1006/jsre.1999.5699.


Background: Pancreatic serous cystadenoma, mucinous cystic neoplasms, ductal adenocarcinoma with cystic change, and pseudocysts are a spectrum of pancreatic cystic lesions. Their management strategy and prognosis are extremely diverse. Imaging study, cytology, and analysis of the tumor markers of cyst fluid are not always reliable in differentiation of these disease entities.

Materials and methods: Fifteen patients with pancreatic cystic neoplasms (including six mucinous cystadenocarcinomas, two mucinous cystic neoplasms with borderline malignancy, two mucinous cystadenomas, and five serous cystadenomas), 4 patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas with cystic change, and 10 patients with pseudocysts were studied. Echo-guided or computed tomography-guided biopsies of pancreatic cystic lesions and their normal counterparts were conducted on all patients prior to operation or other management. The specimens were assayed for telomerase activity by using TRAP (telomere repeat amplification protocol). The level of telomerase activity in each specimen was semiquantitated as strong, moderate, weak, and none. The final diagnoses were made from histopathological examination of surgically resected or biopsied specimens. The efficacy of telomerase activity as a tumor marker to predict malignancy of pancreatic cystic lesions was evaluated.

Results: Three of the four pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas with cystic change had strong or moderate telomerase activity; four of the six mucinous cystadenocarcinomas had moderate or weak telomerase activity; one of the two mucinous cystadenomas with borderline malignancy had weak telomerase activity; and none of their normal counterparts had detectable telomerase activity. In contrast, none of the two mucinous cystadenomas, five serous cystadenomas, and 10 pseudocysts had detectable telomerase activity. Based on these results, the sensitivity of telomerase activity for prediction of malignancy or premalignancy of pancreatic cystic lesions was 67%, the specificity was 100%, and the positive and negative predictive values were 1.0 and 0.81, respectively. The overall accuracy was 86%.

Conclusions: The differential expressions of telomerase activity have been detected specifically in malignant and premalignant pancreatic cystic tumors, but not in benign cystic neoplasms or pseudocysts. The implications of these results are that telomerase activation takes part in the malignant transformation of pancreatic cystic neoplasms and that telomerase activity is a useful marker to distinguish malignant pancreatic cystic tumors from benign neoplasms and pseudocysts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / enzymology*
  • Cystadenocarcinoma, Mucinous / enzymology*
  • Cystadenoma, Serous / enzymology*
  • Female
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Pancreatic Pseudocyst / enzymology*
  • Telomerase / metabolism*


  • Biomarkers
  • Telomerase