What are Pancreatic Cysts?

The pancreas is an organ that aids in digestion and hormone production. Pancreatic cysts are sac-like structures filled with pus or liquid that can develop on or inside the pancreas. Most pancreatic cysts are benign (noncancerous), but in rare cases these growths are precancerous or cancerous (malignant).

There are nearly 20 different types of pancreatic cysts. These differ in size, cellular makeup, and location within the pancreas. At MedStar Health, the experienced clinicians in our Pancreas and Liver Diseases program have the expertise to treat pancreatic cysts of all types and severity.

What are the Symptoms of Pancreatic Cysts?

Pancreatic cysts may be entirely asymptomatic and discovered only during imaging tests that are performed for other reasons. When symptoms do present, they include:

  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes)
  • A lump that you can feel in your abdomen
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Nausea

Pancreatic cysts sometimes become infected or rupture, requiring emergency care. Symptoms of rupture or infection include:

  • Fainting
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting blood
  • Extreme abdominal pain

How are Pancreatic Cysts Diagnosed?

Your visit to the Pancreas and Liver Diseases program will begin with a review of your symptoms and medical history.  

Pancreatic cysts are typically diagnosed using imagining scans, including MRIs, CT scans, CT/PET scans, and ultrasounds. If more information is needed, your doctor may perform an endoscopic ultrasound (EUS). EUS is a type of imaging test that also allows for the collection of blood and tissue samples. These samples give your doctor additional diagnostic information and will allow him or her to determine whether cancer cells are present.

How are Pancreatic Cysts Treated?

The type of treatment required for a pancreatic cyst will depend upon cancer risk, cyst type, size, placement, and symptom severity.

A painless and benign cyst may not require any immediate intervention. In this case, your MedStar Georgetown care team will monitor your pancreatic health over time to ensure that there are no concerning changes.

If a cyst is causing you discomfort but does not present a cancer risk, your clinician may drain the cyst. This is done through an endoscopic procedure, meaning that the surgery is performed with small instruments attached to a long, thin tube that is inserted through the mouth.

When a pancreatic cyst presents a cancer risk, is large, or is causing significant pain, it may need to be surgically removed. This can typically be accomplished through a minimally-invasive laparoscopic or robot-assisted surgery. These minimally invasive techniques reduce risks and speed healing.

Make an Appointment

For more information or to schedule an appointment with a pancreatic or biliary disease specialist, call our scheduling line.  

Phone: 202-444-8541.


Get answers to commonly asked questions about the Gastroenterology department at MedStar Georgetown.