Risk of malignancy in serous cystic neoplasms of the pancreas

Digestion. 2003;68(1):24-33. doi: 10.1159/000073222. Epub 2003 Aug 29.


Background: In contrast to mucinous cystic neoplasms of the pancreas, which are known to have considerable malignant potential, the serous variant is generally thought to be benign. There are, however, several reports of malignancy in serous cystic neoplasms of the pancreas.

Aims: To assess the risk of malignancy of serous cystic tumors of the pancreas and to investigate specific clinical and histological features.

Methods: Clinical and pathological characteristics of benign and malignant serous cystic neoplasms of the pancreas were investigated by a review of the literature and documented by a case of a serous cystadenocarcinoma and immunohistochemical analysis of a series of serous cystadenomas. Reviewing the literature prevalence, age and sex distribution of serous cystic neoplasms were analyzed.

Results: The prevalence of cancer among serous cystic neoplasms reported since 1989 was 3%. Serous cystadenoma of the pancreas present at an earlier age (61 years) than serous cystadenocarcinoma (66 years; p = 0.056) and are symptomatic in the majority of patients. Pathological examination of the primary tumor was not able to distinguish cystadenoma from cystadenocarcinoma in 38% of cases. In 25% the diagnosis of cancer was established only after growth of metachronous metastases. In the present case, nuclear atypia, papillary structures, proliferation marker Ki-67 and p53 protein were increased in the primary tumor and/or metachronous metastasis.

Conclusion: Serous cystic neoplasms of the pancreas do have malignant potential with a risk of malignancy of 3% and should be surgically treated if the operative risk is acceptable. Routine analysis of genetic and proliferation markers may improve diagnosis of malignancy in these tumors.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cystadenocarcinoma, Serous / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Middle Aged
  • Pancreas / pathology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Assessment