Incidental pancreatic cysts: do we really know what we are watching?

Pancreatology. 2010;10(2-3):144-50. doi: 10.1159/000243733. Epub 2010 May 17.


Background: Most cystic neoplasms of the pancreas (CNPs) are incidentally discovered. Their management continues to be debated and preoperative diagnosis is often inaccurate.

Methods: Retrospective review of 330 patients with incidentally discovered CNPs. Preoperative and final histological diagnoses were correlated.

Results: 41% (136/330) of patients were operated on at diagnosis. 50 patients underwent resection for a presumed branch-duct (Bd) intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm (IPMN), which was confirmed in only 64% (32/50); of the remaining patients, 20% had main-duct involvement. Mucinous cystic neoplasm was the preoperative diagnosis in 30/136 patients, histologic examination was confirmatory in only 60% (18/30). Most lesions presumed to be main-duct or combined IPMNs or serous cystadenomas were confirmed as such after resection (15/16 and 11/12, respectively). Multifocality was not only associated with Bd-IPMN, and 5% of all cysts were non-neoplastic. Overall, in only 68% of cases did the preoperative and histological diagnoses match.

Conclusions: In an experienced, high-volume center, preoperative diagnosis was incorrect in one-third of incidentally discovered CNPs who underwent resection. Of particular concern, 20% of presumed Bd-IPMN had a main-duct component. Conversely, 5% of resected cysts were not even neoplastic. Clearly, better diagnostic methods are needed to aid in formulating appropriate treatment strategies.

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma, Mucinous / diagnosis
  • Adenocarcinoma, Mucinous / pathology
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidental Findings
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pancreatic Cyst / diagnosis*
  • Pancreatic Cyst / surgery
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome