The pathologic and clinical classification, as well as the behavior, of cystic tumors of the pancreas has been the subject of controversy. We retrospectively reviewed 50 patients with a diagnosis of cystic tumor of the pancreas observed at The Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1984 to 1991. These tumors were classified into three broad groups: I, cystadenoma; II, cystadenocarcinoma; and III, adenocarcinoma with mucin production or an associated cyst. The three groups did not differ with respect to age or sex. The most common clinical presentation was abdominal pain. Symptoms and signs among the three groups were similar except that patients with cystadenomas were less likely (p < 0.05) to be jaundiced and more likely (p < 0.05) to be asymptomatic. Radiologic findings on computerized tomography, cholangiography, and arteriography also overlapped, making precise preoperative determination of tumor type difficult. Operative classification was also often not possible. The resectability rate (Group I, 91%; Group II, 67%; Group III, 53%) and 5-year survival rate (Group I, 90%; Group II, 72%; Group III, 14%) correlated with careful pathologic determination. Cystic tumors of the pancreas represent a spectrum of disease ranging from benign cystadenoma to adenocarcinoma masquerading as cystadenocarcinoma. We recommend resection whenever possible, even when preoperative evaluation suggests benign disease.
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