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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Incidental pancreatic lesions

Taotūtanga iti ki te repe taiaka huka

Illustration of the human digestive system showing salivary glands, oesophagus, liver, stomach, gall bladder, pancreas, small & large intestines, appendix, rectum & anus.Your pancreas is an organ that sits behind your stomach. It is attached to your digestive system by pancreatic ducts (small tubes). It makes hormones like insulin that help manage your blood glucose (sugar). It also makes enzymes that help your digestive system break down food.

An incidental pancreatic lesion is a type of cyst that sits on or in your pancreas. Cysts are sacs or lumps that contain fluid or other material.

Most incidental pancreatic lesions are benign (non-cancerous). But a small number have the potential to become cancerous.

Incidental pancreatic lesions are usually found on images from scans. These are scans such as CT scans and MRI scans that are done for other reasons.

These types of scans have become more common. This means more incidental pancreatic lesions are being found. Health professionals now believe that incidental pancreatic lesions are common in older people.

Incidental pancreatic lesions do not usually cause any symptoms. If any symptoms do occur, they might include stomach pain and nausea or vomiting. Rarely, it can cause your skin or the whites of your eyes to become yellow (called jaundice). Another rare symptom is unintentional weight loss.

Diagnosing incidental pancreatic lesions

If a scan shows you have lesions, your general practice team will check the image and examine you. They will also ask if you have any symptoms.

They may also arrange an ultrasound scan to get more information about the lesions or get specialist advice.

Treating incidental pancreatic lesions

For most people, the best course of action is active monitoring. This means you have regular scans to check if there are any changes. How often the scans happen depends on the size and nature of the lesions. It also depends on how far they extend within the pancreas's tubes and whether you have a family history of pancreatic cancer. Some people have scans every 18 months.

If there is a high risk of cancer, your doctor might consider surgery to remove the lesions. They will determine the risk of the lesions and have a detailed discussion with you. They will tell you if they recommend surgery.

All surgery has risks. You and your doctor need to weigh up the risks of the surgery against the risks of leaving the lesions alone.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2024.


Page reference: 811464

Review key: HIIPL-811464