Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas associated with intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMNs) versus pseudo-IPMNs: relative frequency, clinicopathologic characteristics and differential diagnosis

Mod Pathol. 2022 Jan;35(1):96-105. doi: 10.1038/s41379-021-00902-x. Epub 2021 Sep 13.


The literature is highly conflicted on what percentage of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas (PDACs) arise in association with intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMNs). Some studies have claimed that even small (Sendai-negative) IPMNs frequently lead to PDAC. Recently, more refined pathologic definitions for mucin-lined cysts were provided in consensus manuscripts, but so far there is no systematic analysis regarding the frequency and clinicopathologic characteristics of IPMN-mimickers, i.e., pseudo-IPMNs. In this study, as the first step in establishing frequency, we performed a systematic review of the pathologic findings in 501 consecutive ordinary PDACs, which disclosed that 10% of PDACs had associated cysts ≥1 cm. While 31 (6.2%) of these were IPMN or mucinous cystic neoplasm (MCN), 19 (3.8%) were other cyst types that mimicked IPMN (pseudo-IPMNs) per recent WHO/consensus criteria. As the second step of the study, we performed a comparative clinicopathologic analysis by also including our entire surgical pathology/consultation databases that was comprised of 60 IPMN-associated PDACs, 30 MCN-associated PDACs and 40 pseudo-IPMN-associated PDACs. We found that 84% of true IPMNs were pre-operatively recognized, whereas IPMN was considered in differential diagnosis of 33% of pseudo-IPMNs. Of the 40 pseudo-IPMNs, there were 15 secondary duct ectasias; 6 large-duct-type PDACs; 5 pseudocysts; 5 cystic tumor necrosis; 4 simple mucinous cysts; 3 groove pancreatitis-associated paraduodenal wall cysts; and 2 congenital cysts. Microscopically, pseudo-IPMNs had at least partial mucinous-lining mimicking IPMN but had smaller cystic (mean = 1.9 cm) and larger PDAC (mean = 3.8 cm) components compared to true IPMNs (cyst = 5.7 cm; PDAC = 2.0 cm). In summary, in this pathologically verified analysis that utilized refined criteria, 10% of PDACs were discovered to have cysts ≥1 cm, about two-thirds of which were IPMN/MCN but about one-third were pseudo-IPMNs. True IPMNs underlying the PDACs are often large and are already diagnosed pre-operatively as having an IPMN component, whereas only a third of the pseudo-IPMNs receive IPMN diagnosis by imaging and their cysts are smaller. At the histopathologic level, pseudo-IPMNs are highly prone to misdiagnosis as IPMN, which presumably accounts for much higher association of IPMNs with PDAC as reported in some studies. The subtle but salient characteristics of pseudo-IPMNs elucidated in this study should be combined with careful radiological/clinical correlation in order to exclude pseudo-IPMNs.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / complications
  • Adenocarcinoma / diagnosis
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / complications
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / complications*
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / pathology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pancreatic Intraductal Neoplasms / complications*
  • Pancreatic Intraductal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Pancreatic Intraductal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / complications
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology