Pancreatic panniculitis: the "bright" side of the moon in solid cancer patients

BMC Gastroenterol. 2018 Jan 4;18(1):1. doi: 10.1186/s12876-017-0727-1.


Background: Pancreatic panniculitis is a rare complication of pancreas disorders occurring in 0.3-3% of patients, most often accompanied by the pancreatic acinar carcinoma. It presents multiple, painful, deep, ill-defined, red-brown, migratory nodules and plaques of hard elastic consistency; often ulcerated and typically located on the lower proximal and distal extremities. The pathogenesis is not fully understood, but it is thought to result from lipolysis and fat necrosis with secondary tissue inflammation induced by pancreatic enzymes. Histopathology shows subcutaneous lobular fat necrosis with anuclear adipocytes (called ghost cells) surrounded by a mixed inflammatory infiltrate. Focal calcification may also be seen. The treatment is directed to the underlying disorder, which may result in regression of skin lesions.

Case presentation: We present two cases of pancreatic panniculitis with similar clinical, laboratory, and histopathological features associated with different internal malignancy. The first case, after extensive investigations showed the presence of a pancreatic carcinoma with multiple liver metastases and a poor prognosis. The second one instead is the first case in literature where painful subcutaneous nodules of the legs were the early manifestation of a neuroendocrine carcinoma of the adrenal gland.

Conclusions: Although subcutaneous fat necrosis usually occurs late in the course of a malignancy, recognition of the association with pancreatic panniculitis may prevent a long delay in the diagnosis and management of the occult neoplasm. It should be primarily considered when panniculitis is widespread and persistent, and frequent relapses or tendency to ulcerate of the nodules are regarded as red flags.

Keywords: Pancreatic cancer; Pancreatic panniculitis; Subcutaneous fat necrosis.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carcinoma / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lipase / blood
  • Male
  • Pancreatic Diseases / enzymology
  • Pancreatic Diseases / etiology*
  • Pancreatic Diseases / pathology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Panniculitis / enzymology
  • Panniculitis / etiology*
  • Panniculitis / pathology


  • Lipase