Like many other organs, the pancreas may also be affected by the formation of a cyst, which is a small sac-like structure containing some liquid. ‘There are different types of cysts, in most cases they are not malignant, but it is the specialist’s job to evaluate the clinical problem and define the type of intervention depending on their characteristics’, recalls Professor Alessandro Zerbi, head of pancreas surgery at Humanitas and lecturer at Humanitas University.
Pancreatic cysts are mostly benign tumor formations. The number of patients diagnosed has increased over the years: ‘Since instrumental examinations (ultrasound, CT scan and magnetic resonance imaging) have become more frequent and sophisticated, it has been easier to detect the presence of random pancreatic cysts’, explains the professor. ‘Often, patients undergo these tests for acute events such as, for example, renal colic or for the follow up of any condition in the abdominal area and so, accidentally, the presence of a cyst may be detected’.
Cysts and pseudo-cysts
It is possible to distinguish one type of inflammatory cyst, more commonly called pseudo-cyst: ‘They arise as a consequence of pancreatitis or severe pancreas trauma. They can be acute or chronic, and often cause pain. These cysts must be treated with endoscopic procedures to drain them, and more rarely they require surgery that is instead more focused on the treatment of pancreatitis’.
However, in most cases, cysts are cystic neoplasms: ‘Frequently found with instrumental examinations, and of different types. Some of them don’t have the chance to evolve, others must be monitored or even removed if they have characteristics that make them at greater risk of malignancy. In the latter case, it is necessary to contact a specialist who will be able to observe the predictive malign signs of these formations and decide how to treat them accordingly’. Cysts tend to be asymptomatic, ‘They can make the patient feel a sense of compression only if they are particularly voluminous’, recalls Professor Zerbi.
How can the onset of a pancreatic cyst be prevented? ‘The risk factors for cysts are the same ones of pancreatitis. Therefore, the regular and not moderate consumption of alcohol and a very high fat diet’, concludes the specialist.