Why pancreatic cysts doesn't mean you have cancer

FOX CHASE (WPVI) -- The pancreas is one of the hardest-working organs in our body.

It's a power-house for fueling your body, keeping your blood sugar in balance, but also helping in digesting food.

But it's one even experts don't understand completely.

And there's one problem that's especially misunderstood.

Sometimes, during abdominal scans for other reasons, doctors discover cysts on the pancreas.

"People always get that confused; they think anything on the pancreas is automatically cancer," says Dr. Sanjay Reddy, an oncologic surgeon at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

But Dr. Reddy says the majority are benign cysts.

"That may have been there a long time, but we just don't know," he notes.

When cysts are found, patients need a multi-disciplinary evaluation.

"These need to be seen by not just a surgeon, (but) a GI doctor, and just a really good radiologist that has expertise in this," says Dr. Reddy.

Dr. Michael Bartel says cysts need to be monitored, in case they grow.

"When they reach a certain size, they can block off the bowels, they can block off the bile duct, which is a duct which transports bile from the liver to the bowel," says Dr. Bartel.

Biopsies may also be needed for the small percentage of cysts that become precancerous.

"Those can be analyzed both on the presence of the absence of pre-malignant cells," says Dr. Bartel.

And they can also be tested for tumor markers indicating which cells MIGHT become malignant.

If the cysts do become worrisome, they can be surgically removed.

"You're removing just a segment of your pancreas - head, neck, body or tail," says Dr. Reddy.

But that's seldomly needed.

"Usually imaging every year or even every other year suffices," says Dr. Reddy.

A few medical centers are experimenting with non-surgical methods of getting rid of pancreatic cysts.

None have proven their worth yet, but the work continues.

Visit Fox Chase Cancer Center for more information on pancreatic cysts.
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