What is a pancreatic pseudocyst?
A pancreatic pseudocyst is a collection of fluid around the pancreas. The fluid in the cyst is usually pancreatic juice that has leaked out of a damaged pancreatic duct. Pancreatic pseudocysts arise after acute pancreatitis or chronic pancreatitis. In some patients the pseudocyst may develop soon after an attack of acute pancreatitis. Often the patient can present many weeks or months after recovery from of an attack of acute or chronic pancreatitis.
How do patients present with pancreatic pseudocysts?
The common symptoms that patients present are pain in the abdomen, the feeling of bloating or poor digestion of food, a deep ache in the abdomen or complications related to the pseudocyst such as infection of the pseudocyst with a pancreatic abscess, bleeding into the pseudocyst or blockage of parts of the intestine by the pseudocyst.
How are pancreatic pseudocysts diagnosed?
The diagnosis is usually made by a CT scan. A typical picture is seen on CT of a fluid filled mass around the pancreas. It is important to note that in some patients, cystic tumors such as mucinous cystadenoma may look exactly like a pseudocyst. An evaluation by an experience radiologist and a surgeon to evaluate the cyst is important for appropriate care?
How are pancreatic pseudocysts treated?
All cysts do not require treatment. In many cases the pseudocysts may improve and go away on their own. In a patient with a small (less than 6cm) cyst that is not causing any symptoms, careful observation of the cyst with periodic CT scans is indicated. In a significant number of patients the cyst will get better and resolve. If a pseudocyst is persistent over many moths or causing symptoms then treatment of the cyst is required.
Treatment of pseudocysts
A number of different types of treatments are available for pseudocysts. The treatment of pancreatic pseudocyst is complex and should be performed in an institution where a multidisciplinary team of experienced pancreatic surgeons, gastroenterologists and radiologist work together. The optimal procedure whether it is performed by the surgeon, gastroenterologist or the radiologist is therefore provided to the patient.
Surgical treatment of pancreatic pseudocyst
The majority of patients who require treatment for their pseudocysts are treated by surgery. In the surgical procedure for the treatment of pseudocyst a connection is created between the cyst and an adjacent intestinal organ to which the cyst is adherent to such as the stomach. This connection allows the cyst to drain into the stomach. Since in many patients the cyst is formed by continuous leakage of pancreatic juice into the cyst this allows the pancreatic juice to be rerouted into the intestine through the connection.
At USC we have developed a laparoscopic procedure for treatment of pancreatic pseudocysts. In this procedure a cystjejunostomy or cystgastrostomy is performed utilizing minimal access techniques. Patients recover rapidly from this procedure usually discharged home on the second day post-operatively.
Drainage of the pseudocyst by a radiologist:
In this procedure a radiologist inserts a thin needle into the pseudocyst under guidance with an CT x-ray and to drain all the fluid. While sometimes this technique is successful, often this technique may give rise to a significant number of complications such as persistent leakage from the drain that the radiologist places to drain the cyst over many weeks or months, infection of the pseudocyst and repeated procedures to have the drain changed. Because of the multiple problems associated with this treatment we seldom recommend this treatment for drainage of pseudocyst.
In this procedure a gastroenterologist drains the pseudocyst through the stomach by creating a small opening between the cyst and the stomach during endoscopy. In selected patients this treatment can successfully treat pseudocyst. The disadvantage of this technique is that if there is dead tissue in the pseudocyst cavity or if the cyst is very large then infection or recurrence of pseudocyst with this technique may occur.
Insertion of a pancreatic stent: In this technique the gastroenterologist may insert a drain into the cyst during a procedure called ERCP. If the drain is placed directly into the cyst then the fluid from the cyst is drained into the intestine through this tube.
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