Pancreatic cysts - intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm

The pancreas is an organ in your tummy (abdomen). The pancreas produces enzymes, which help with digestion, and also produces hormones such as insulin. Tiny tubes within the pancreas (known as pancreatic ducts) allow the digestive enzymes to travel to the first part of the small intestine, which is part of the digestive system. 

Pancreatic cysts are fluid-filled lumps in the pancreas. These are known as intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMN). They are benign, which means they are not a form of cancer. 

Sometimes there is a change in the cells that line the pancreatic duct and the cyst can develop into a cancerous tumour, which is known as malignant. 

It can be difficult to treat cancer in the pancreas, so these cysts are carefully monitored. 


In most cases, pancreatic IPMN do not cause any symptoms and most people don’t know they have them.

They are usually found on images from scans which have been done for a different reason.

If you do experience symptoms, these could include:

  • pain in your tummy (abdomen) 
  • feeling or being sick 
  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eye) 
  • unintentional weight loss

Tests to confirm the diagnosis

There are different types of scan that can detect or monitor an IPMN. These include: 


For many people we will monitor with regular scans to check for any changes. How often this monitoring happens depends on factors including: 

  • the size of the IPMN
  • how far it extends within the pancreas' tubes 
  • whether there is a family history of pancreatic cancer

For others, monitoring is not thought to be helpful. Usually, this is because: 

  • the IPMN is very small 
  • the patient does not want major pancreas surgery
  • the patient is not fit enough to have major surgery 

The specialist liver and pancreas surgery team will review the IPMN and talk to you about the risks and agree on what action to take. 

Surgery may be recommended but that will depend on where the IPMN(s) are. In high-risk cases, surgery may be considered to remove the IPMN(s) from the pancreas to reduce the risk of developing cancer.

If surgery is thought to be the best treatment, we might use keyhole surgery (laparoscopic) or an open operation to remove part, or all, of the pancreas. 

Read more about having surgery at our hospitals.

Keeping well

Smoking, alcohol and being overweight can increase the risk of cancer developing and are best avoided. 

Read more about keeping well before surgery.

Useful information

Guts UK is a charity that offers information, support and research into diseases of the digestive tract that includes the gut, liver and pancreas. 

Resource number: 5329/VER1
Published date: November 2022
Review date: November 2025

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