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Cancer Imaging. 2006 Jul 13;6:60-71.

Cystic tumors of the pancreas.

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Department of Radiology, Hospital Ca' Foncello, Treviso, Italy.


Cystic tumors of the pancreas are less frequent than solid lesions and are often detected incidentally, as many of these lesions are small and asymptomatic. However, they may be associated with pancreatitis or have malignant potential. With advancements in diagnostic imaging, cystic lesions of the pancreas are being detected with increasing frequency. Many lesions can cause a pancreatic cyst, most being non-neoplastic while approximately 10% are cystic tumors, ranging from benign to highly malignant tumors. With increasing experience it is becoming clear that the prevalence of pseudocyst among cystic lesions of the pancreas is lower than usually presumed. A presumptive diagnosis of pseudocyst based on imaging appearance alone can cause a diagnostic error, and neoplastic cysts of the pancreas are particularly susceptible to this misdiagnosis, which can result in inappropriate treatment. Cystic tumors of the pancreas are formed by serous or mucinous structures showing all stages of cellular differentiation. According to the WHO classification, they can be subdivided on the basis of their histological type and biological behavior into benign tumors, borderline tumors, and malignant tumors. Cystic pancreatic tumors can be subdivided into peripheral (serous cystadenomas, mucinous cystic tumors, solid and papillary epithelial neoplasms, cystic islet cell tumors), which do not communicate with the main pancreatic duct, and ductal tumors (mucinous tumor), according to their site of origin. On the basis of imaging criteria alone, it can be very difficult to differentiate non-tumoral cystic lesions from neoplastic ones. The management of these patients is complex, and it is important to correlate imaging findings with knowledge of the patient's symptoms and of the natural history and predictors of malignancy in pancreatic cysts.

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