Improvements in the sensitivity and quality of cross-sectional imaging have led to increasing numbers of patients being diagnosed with cystic lesions of the pancreas. In parallel, clinical, radiological, pathological and molecular studies have improved the systems for classifying these cysts. Patients with asymptomatic serous cystic neoplasms can be managed conservatively with regular monitoring; however, the clinical management of patients with intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms and mucinous cystic neoplasms is far more challenging, as it is difficult to determine whether these lesions will progress to malignancy. Fortunately, prospective studies have helped to establish that proposed clinical and radiological criteria (the Sendai guidelines) can be used to guide the care of patients with cystic lesions of the pancreas. Despite this progress in imaging and clinical guidelines, sensitive and specific tests have not yet been developed that can reliably predict the histology and biological properties of a cystic lesion. Such biomarkers are urgently needed, as noninvasive precursors of pancreatic cancer are curable, while the vast majority of invasive pancreatic adenocarcinomas are not.