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Pancreatic cysts

Different types of cysts can affect the pancreas. A cyst is a sac filled with fluid. These cysts are usually not cancerous (benign) but some can become cancerous (malignant).

If you have a pancreatic cyst you should be offered a CT and/or MRI/MRCP scan to check that it’s not cancer. You should be referred for surgery if the scan shows that:

  • you have jaundice and cysts in the head of the pancreas
  • the cyst may have a solid part to it, which may suggest that the cyst could be cancer
  • the main pancreatic duct is very large.

The NICE guidelines have made recommendations  about how cysts should be diagnosed and treated.

Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm

Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMNs) are cysts that are usually not cancerous, although they can become cancerous. IPMNs can develop in the main pancreatic duct or the smaller ducts in the pancreas. They are more common in people over 50.

IPMNs often don’t cause any symptoms and may be found during a scan for another reason. If there are symptoms, these can include tummy pain, weight loss, sickness and jaundice.

Surgery may be an option, but it depends on several things, including the size of the IPMN, how quickly it is growing, and any changes found during monitoring.

Mucinous cystic neoplasm

Mucinous cystic neoplasms (MCNs) are cysts that are usually not cancerous but can become cancerous. MCNs are usually found in the body or tail of the pancreas. They almost always affect women in their 40s and 50s.

MCNs often don’t cause any symptoms, although some people may have tummy pain or a lump in the tummy. Surgery may be an option, but this depends on several things, including the size of the MCN and how quickly it is growing.

Serous cystadenoma (also known as serous cystic neoplasm)

Serous cystadenomas (SCAs) are non-cancerous cysts. They may be found anywhere in the pancreas, and mostly affect women over 50. SCAs often don’t cause any symptoms, and are only found because a person has had a scan for another reason. If they do cause symptoms, these may include tummy pain, a lump in the tummy or, rarely, jaundice.

If there are no symptoms, no treatment is needed. If there are symptoms, surgery may be an option.

Questions to ask

  • What type of pancreatic cyst do I have?
  • Does it need any treatment?
  • Will it be monitored to check for any changes?
  • Could the cyst become cancerous?

If you have any questions about pancreatic cysts, speak to your doctor. You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our Support Line.

Read about exocrine pancreatic cancer

Read about pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (PancNETs)

Read about other cancers linked with the pancreas

Updated: November 2018

Review date: November 2021

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