The pancreas produces and releases insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream to keep blood sugar levels within a normal range. The pancreas also produces enzymes to aid in the digestion of fats, proteins and carbohydrates in the intestine. Disease of the pancreas include:
- Pancreatitis (acute and chronic inflammation of the pancreas)
- Solid tumors (malignant and non-malignant)
- Cystic tumors (may be benign, pre-malignant or malignant)
- Pseudocysts (a fluid collection of pancreatic enzymes)
- Strictures (blockages)
Pancreatitis is an acute or chronic inflammation of the pancreas that may be caused by heavy alcohol use or gallstones (the two primary causes) or by certain medical conditions, some drugs or an unknown cause.
A pseudocyst is a localized fluid collection of pancreatic enzymes that often appears several weeks after the onset of pancreatitis.
Tumors of the Pancreas
Many types of cysts can be found in the pancreas. Cysts can be benign, pre-malignant or malignant. Treatment depends upon the type of cyst. Cysts are often found during a CT scan or MRI scan done for other purposes.
- Serous cystic neoplasm (SCN) — a spongy, localized cyst in the pancreas that is usually benign. These cysts may be located anywhere in the pancreas. They may be removed surgically if they cause symptoms or if a diagnosis cannot be firmly defined by standard imaging and biopsies/fine needle aspiration.
- Mucinous cystic neoplasm (MCN) — 30 percent of cysts in the pancreas are this type, which ranges from benign to malignant. It is made up of cells that produce mucin, a component of mucus. About 70 percent to 90 percent of these cysts are found in the body or tail of the pancreas, and one-third are associated with invasive cancer of the pancreas.
- Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMN) — cysts consisting of mucin-producing tumors. They involve the main pancreatic duct or major side branches. These cysts are usually found in the head and neck of the pancreas or uncinate process of the pancreas (part of the head of the pancreas). IPMNs have a high potential for progressing from benign growths to invasive cancer.