What is a pancreatic cyst?

A pancreatic cyst is a fluid-filled cavity that has developed in the pancreas. The pancreas is a large gland that sits deep inside your abdomen, between your stomach, liver and spleen.

There are several causes of pancreatic cysts. They can occur when juices from the pancreas collect and irritate the pancreas, or after damage or injury to the pancreas. 

Pancreatic cysts are common and often found on an MRI or CT scan ordered for another reason.

Pancreatic surgeon Mr Julian Choi and gastroenterologist A/Prof Andrew Metz answer common questions about pancreatic cysts.

What is the risk of pancreatic cancer with a pancreatic cyst?

A pancreatic cyst is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer.1

However, the majority of pancreatic cysts are completely benign (non-cancerous). Most will never change or cause cancer in someone’s lifetime. 

Some pancreatic cysts are high risk and have an increased chance of turning into a cancer in the near future. Your specialist will share their recommendations based on your symptoms and the features of the cyst.  

What is next after a pancreatic cyst diagnosis?

A proper assessment of a pancreatic cyst is essential. This allows your specialist to determine its type and potential risk.

In most cases, pancreatic cysts are best managed in a multidisciplinary approach, with input from specialist gastroenterologists, surgeons and radiologists. 

An assessment of a pancreatic cyst may involve:

  • CT scan – pancreas protocol.
  • MRI scan – a specific type to see the pancreas in fine detail. 
  • endoscopic ultrasound (and possible biopsy) – helps to determine if a cyst should be removed. 

Should a pancreatic cyst be removed?

The majority of pancreatic cysts do not need to be removed. They will be monitored for changes and will often not require further management.

A small number of pancreatic cysts should be removed due to their size or risk of turning into a cancer. The only way to remove a pancreatic cyst is through surgery. 

Your specialist will discuss the risks and benefits with you. Surgery to remove a pancreatic cyst is usually only recommended if there is a risk of potential pancreatic cancer in the next few years.  

Contact us

Have a question about care for pancreatic cysts or pancreatic cancer?

The Jreissati Pancreatic Centre at Epworth can help. Get in touch with our pancreatic nurse coordinator with a question, or to learn more about our centre.