Cyst fluid analysis in the differential diagnosis of pancreatic cystic lesions: a pooled analysis

Gastrointest Endosc. 2005 Sep;62(3):383-9. doi: 10.1016/s0016-5107(05)01581-6.


Background: Pancreatic cystic tumors commonly include serous cystadenoma (SCA), mucinous cystadenoma (MCA), and mucinous cystadenocarcinoma (MCAC). A differential diagnosis with pseudocysts (PC) can be difficult. Radiologic criteria are not reliable. The objective of the study is to investigate the value of cyst fluid analysis in the differential diagnosis of benign (SCA, PC) vs. premalignant or malignant (MCA, MCAC) lesions.

Methods: A search in PubMed was performed with the search terms cyst, pancrea, and fluid. Articles about cyst fluid analysis of pancreatic lesions that contained the individual data of at least 7 patients were included in the study. Data of all individual patients were combined and were plotted in scatter grams. Cutoff levels were determined.

Results: Twelve studies were included, which comprised data of 450 patients. Cysts with an amylase concentration <250 U/L were SCA, MCA, or MCAC (sensitivity 44%, specificity 98%) and, thus, virtually excluded PC. A carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) <5 ng/mL suggested a SCA or PC (sensitivity 50%, specificity 95%). A CEA >800 ng/mL strongly suggested MCA or MCAC (sensitivity 48%, specificity 98%). A carbohydrate-associated antigen (CA) 19-9 <37 U/mL strongly suggested PC or SCA (sensitivity 19%, specificity 98%). Cytologic examination revealed malignant cells in 48% of MCAC (n = 111).

Discussion: Most pancreatic cystic tumors should be resected without the need for cyst fluid analysis. However, in asymptomatic patients, in patients with an increased surgical risk, and, in patients in whom there is a diagnostic uncertainty about the presence of a PC, cyst fluid analysis helps to determine the optimal therapeutic strategy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Cyst Fluid / chemistry
  • Cyst Fluid / cytology
  • Cystadenocarcinoma, Mucinous / diagnosis
  • Cystadenocarcinoma, Mucinous / pathology*
  • Cystadenocarcinoma, Mucinous / therapy
  • Cystadenoma, Serous / diagnosis
  • Cystadenoma, Serous / pathology*
  • Cystadenoma, Serous / therapy
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Pancreatic Cyst / diagnosis
  • Pancreatic Cyst / pathology*
  • Pancreatic Cyst / therapy
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / therapy
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Biomarkers, Tumor