“There are many different types of masses that can occur in the pancreas,” says Jordan Winter, MD, a hepato-pancreatic-biliary and oncology surgeon and Chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

“However, the majority of asymptomatic masses are benign and are typically benign cysts,” says Dr. Winter.

However, if a mass is discovered on the pancreas, there’s an 85 percent chance that it will be the deadly adenocarcinoma.

“If a patient presents with jaundice [yellowing of the skin] and a mass, there is a about a 90 percent chance” that the mass will be malignant, adds Dr. Winter.

“Masses can be tumors [benign or malignant] or non-tumors,” says Dr. Winter.

“Those masses that aren’t tumors can be simple cysts or pancreatitis. Benign tumors can be solid or cystic (sacs with fluid).”

Most Deadly

About 30,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed every year with an adenocarcinoma — the deadliest of pancreatic cancers, comprising 85 percent of all the tumors that are found in this organ.

The Other 15 Percent of Pancreatic Masses 

“Solid benign tumors include low grade neuroendocrine tumors,” says Dr. Winter.

“Cystic benign tumors have complex names like intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms, mucinous cystic neoplasms, serous cystadenomas, and solid and cystic pseudopapillary tumors.”

Cystic tumors comprise the majority of masses found in the pancreas.

“Two to three percent of people walking around in their 60s likely have an asymptomatic, benign and not worrisome cyst,” says Dr. Winter.

Dr. Winter also explains, “Many of these benign cysts can develop into cancer over time, but they do not in the majority of cases.

“Therefore, sometimes we recommend removing them, but not always.”

Most pancreatic cysts are mucinous, and these are usually benign. But if untreated will likely turn malignant. A cyst is a non-solid mass.

“Cysts occur equally in men and woman,” says Dr. Winter.

“There are certain rare cystic tumors that are more common in woman, including mucinous cystadenomas and solid and pseudopapillary tumors.”

Serous cystadenoma. This has a distinct honeycomb appearance on a CT scan and is usually benign.

Papillary cystic neoplasm. These are precancerous lesions that need to be removed; otherwise they may morph into adenocarcinoma.

“Solid malignancies of the pancreas include conventional ductal adenocarcinoma and pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.”

Pancreatic pseudocyst. This is a benign collection of fluid around the organ and is associated with pancreatitis.

“Again, all masses should be evaluated by a pancreatic surgeon or pancreatic gastroenterologist, but the majority are not cancer.”

In addition to surgical management of pancreatic and related cancers, Dr. Winter treats other upper gastrointestinal malignancies and abdominal tumors. He has authored over 100 peer-reviewed articles, many on pancreatic cancer.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
Top image: Shutterstock/uzhursky
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3772258/ mass pancreas cancer