The pancreas is a long, tapered organ that sits behind our stomach and stretches behind our belly. It performs necessary functions relating to our digestive and hormonal systems. In terms of digestive function, the pancreas encloses an exocrine gland responsible for secreting enzymes that help the duodenum (the first portion of the small intestine) break down carbohydrates, proteins, and acids. In terms of hormonal function, the pancreas encloses an endocrine gland that secretes the hormones insulin and glucagon into our bloodstream. They work together to monitor how much glucose is circulating in our blood, as well as a substance known as somatostatin.
Of the various conditions that may befall your pancreas, ampullary polyps may lead to a number of potentially severe secondary conditions, such as bacterial infection, bile duct blockage, pancreatitis (inflammation), or perhaps even cancer. An ampullary polyp is an abnormal growth in the area where your pancreatic and bile ducts meet to drain into your duodenum; while a polyp is initially benign, it can evolve into ampullary cancer (or the other aforementioned conditions) once it grows. However, it’s important to note that a polyp in the pancreas is not necessarily a tumor when it first appears.
Ampullary polyps are generally asymptomatic until they block the ability of pancreatic juices or bile to make their exit; if this occurs, it may lead to elevated liver enzymes or pancreatitis. If this occurs, symptoms may include:
Ampullary polyps are often first diagnosed with a comprehensive exam, which includes cataloguing your medical history. An upper endoscopy with biopsy often follows. This process involves using an endoscope to examine your upper GI tract; your physician will then take a small tissue sample (aka a biopsy) to further examine in the lab. If there’s no evidence of cancer and the polyp isn’t too big, you’ll be treated via a procedure known as endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) and the placement of a temporary stent in your pancreatic duct. If the polyp already contains cancer or is significant in size, it will have to be removed using traditional surgical procedures.
The Ezra torso and full-body MRIs screen your pancreas for cancerous and precancerous conditions such as polyps. If you’d like to learn more, you may do so here.