The pancreas is an organ that performs necessary hormonal and digestive functions. Hormonally speaking, it’s responsible for secreting the hormones insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream; these two hormones work together to monitor our blood’s glucose levels. They also keep an eye on the body’s level of somatostatin, a material that stops the release of insulin and glucagon themselves. In terms of its digestive functions, the pancreas has an exocrine gland that’s responsible for secreting enzymes that help the duodenum (the first part of our small intestine) break down acids, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
There are a variety of conditions that could develop in the pancreas, including polyps and cysts.
A pancreatic polyp is also referred to as an ampullary polyp; the ampulla is the junction where the pancreatic duct and the bile duct meet in order to drain to the duodenum. Polyps, or abnormal growths, may develop here. They could begin non cancerous but become cancerous later, or can block the bile duct and/or pancreatic duct as they grow. Ampullary polyps can cause pancreatitis, bacterial infections, bile duct blockage, or ampullary cancer. If an ampullary polyp hasn’t become too big, your doctor could remove it using a process known as endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) to remove it and insert a stent, which will keep the pancreatic duct open while the area heals.
Pancreatic cysts are fluid-filled pockets that form on or within the pancreas; most aren’t cancerous, and the majority are asymptomatic. And technically, many aren’t actually cysts: they’re actually referred to as pseudocysts, and are benign fluid-filled pockets lined with inflammatory or scar tissue, which are a different type of cells than those found in what are considered “true” cysts. Many cysts, though, are benign, and developed because of an episode of pancreatitis. On the other hand, they may begin as a benign formation, but grow slowly overtime and present a small risk of becoming cancerous, or malignant.
The best way to tell whether a cyst is benign or premalignant is to perform an endoscopic ultrasound, a test in which your doctor will examine your cyst and remove a sample of it for further testing. From this procedure, your doctor will be able to tell what kind of cyst you have and what followup you require.
The Ezra abdominal, torso, and full-body scans screen your pancreas for cancer, as well as other actionable conditions such as polyps. If you’d like to learn more about our screening options, you may do so at the following link.