Pancreatic Cysts

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UCLA specialists are experts in pancreatic cysts—our specialists even write national guidelines for managing the condition. We offer minimally invasive diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cysts, which often eliminates the need for surgery.

What Are Pancreatic Cysts?

Pancreatic cysts are small pockets of fluid in the pancreas. Most pancreatic cysts are benign (non-cancerous), and your specialist may recommend several tests to determine the best course of treatment.

There are two types of pancreatic cysts: pseudocysts (inflammatory cysts) and neoplastic cysts.


Pseudocysts are the most common type of pancreatic cyst, representing up to 80 percent of cases. Pseudocysts can be caused by both acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis.

Doctors typically manage pseudocysts with drainage or observation. If the cyst is potentially cancerous, specialists use endoscopic ultrasound to examine the cyst and take a tissue sample. This minimally invasive procedure involves a thin, flexible tube inserted into the digestive tract.

Neoplastic Cysts

Neoplastic cysts are categorized as serous cysts (typically non-cancerous) or mucinous cysts, which can become malignant (cancerous).

What Causes Pancreatic Cysts?

Doctors don’t fully understand the cause of pancreatic cysts. Pseudocysts may result from acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis or pancreatic injury.

Pancreatic Cyst Symptoms

Many pancreatic cysts don’t cause symptoms and are often discovered on imaging tests for other issues. If symptoms are present, patients may experience:

  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating

Diagnosing Pancreatic Cysts

UCLA doctors use a variety of techniques to diagnose pancreatic cysts. These include:

  • Imaging tests: The first step in diagnosing pancreatic cysts is often getting imaging tests like an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computerized tomography) scan.
  • Endoscopic procedure: We have the largest team of interventional endoscopy specialists in Los Angeles. This minimally invasive procedure provides diagnosis of pancreatic cysts in an outpatient setting.
  • Medical history: Patients with acute pancreatitis or chronic pancreatitis are at risk of developing pseudocysts.

Pancreatic Cyst Treatment at UCLA

Many patients are understandably concerned about the risk of pancreatic cysts becoming malignant (cancerous). We provide personalized treatment for pancreatic cysts that identifies this risk and addresses your specific symptoms.

Your doctor may recommend one of the following treatment options for pancreatic cysts:

  • Observation: Non-cancerous cysts often get better on their own. If you’re not experiencing symptoms, your doctor may recommend monitoring the cyst for changes with periodic ultrasounds or imaging tests. 
  • Drainage: If a cyst is large or causes symptoms or complications, your doctor may recommend draining the cyst. UCLA offers minimally invasive endoscopic drainage that doesn’t require open surgery.
  • Surgical removal: If doctors suspect a cyst is cancerous, they may recommend surgical removal. The specific surgery performed depends on where the cyst is located in the pancreas.