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Conditions of the Pancreas

There are several benign and malignant conditions of the pancreas, the more common of which are featured below:

Acute or chronic pancreatitis 

Pancreatitis is a condition in which the pancreas is inflamed. The most common causes of this condition of the pancreas are related to gallstones passing through the common bile duct, alcohol consumption, medication, infections, tumors, inherited conditions or abdominal injury. Once it begins, the pancreatic inflammation can set off a chain of events that affects all of the body’s organ systems.  The severity of pancreatitis may range from a mild illness that resolves on its own to one that requires intensive hospital care and could even be fatal. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 210,000 Americans experience pancreatitis annually.

The acute condition of the pancreas is marked by gradual or sudden, intense abdominal pain, which can last several days. Symptoms also include nausea, vomiting, fever and a rapid pulse.

Treatments for pancreatitis are intended to make the patient comfortable as the inflammation subsides and usually include intravenous fluid, pain medication and bowel rest. Chronic pancreatitis refers to the condition that persists or recurs, resulting in ongoing abdominal and back pain, weight loss and, in some cases, diabetes.

Pancreatic cysts or pseudocysts 

A pancreatic cyst is a condition of the pancreas in which collection of fluid located in or around the pancreas; these cysts can be benign or malignant with certain types having the potential to become cancerous over months or years. A pseudocyst is a collection of fluid containing digestive enzymes that is surrounded by fibrous tissue like scar tissue in an area in or near the pancreas. A recent study at a major medical center found that 13.5 percent of patients undergoing abdominal magnetic resonance imaging were found to have incidentally detected pancreas cystic lesions; this showed the high prevalence of these abnormalities.

Many pancreatic cysts are actually tumors or cystic neoplasms. Because cystic tumors will often occur without causing symptoms and because many have the potential to become cancerous with time, careful evaluation and follow-up of pancreatic cysts is extremely important. Due to the risk of developing cancer, a doctor may recommend monitoring the cyst over time using imaging technology like CT, MRI, ERCP or endoscopic ultrasound, or EUS. Cysts which become more suspicious for cancer may require surgery for removal and examination

Determining the risk of cancer for a pancreatic cyst and determining which patients require surgery can be difficult. Identifying pancreatic cysts that are at highest risk for becoming cancerous has become an intense focus of research, including a study through Beaumont’s BioBank.

Pancreatic cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 43,000 Americans are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year.

Most pancreatic cancers are tumors, originating in the ductal system; this system carries digestive enzymes that break down fats, proteins and starches so they are more easily absorbed by the intestines. The most common type of pancreatic cancer are adenocarinomas, making up 85 percent of the total cases; these tumors can occur anywhere in or on the pancreas but most often occur in the head of the pancreas where the bile duct and pancreatic ducts join and enter the intestine. Endocrine tumors, those arising from the cells that produce hormones like insulin, are less common; these are also known as islet cell tumors or neuroendocrine tumors. Endocrine tumors are much different from adenocarcinoma and, therefore, often treated differently.

Treatments for pancreatic cancer include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Our multidisciplinary clinic designs individual plans of care for each patient. Other unusual tumors may also arise in the pancreas and require individualized plans of treatment.