Cystic neoplasms of the pancreas (CNP) are rare lesions that can be difficult to diagnose preoperatively. Twenty patients with cystic neoplasms of the pancreas including five microcystic adenomas, six benign mucinous cystic neoplasms, three malignant mucinous cystic neoplasms, two solid and papillary epithelial neoplasms, and four cystic neuroendocrine tumors were treated at a single institution between 1962 and 1987. The average duration of symptoms prior to diagnosis was 10 months. Five patients were asymptomatic. Forty percent of patients presented with an abdominal mass. Plain abdominal x-rays and UGI barium contrast studies were never diagnostic. Ultrasonography, computerized tomography (CT) and visceral angiography aided in the correct diagnosis in 28%, 36%, and 75% of patients studied, respectively. Overall a correct diagnosis was made preoperatively in only 35% of patients. Twelve of 13 patients were correctly diagnosed at laparotomy with intraoperative biopsy. Without biopsy the mass was misdiagnosed at laparotomy in five of six cases. CNP must be suspected in any patients who present with an upper abdominal mass with or without abdominal pain and no history of pancreatitis. CT may be diagnostic in up to one third of cases and should be obtained routinely to demonstrate the proximity of the lesion to other structures. Visceral angiography should also be obtained prior to operation. A generous incisional biopsy should be obtained of all pancreatic cysts that are not to be resected.
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