Low Rates of Malignancy and Mortality in Asymptomatic Patients With Suspected Neoplastic Pancreatic Cysts Beyond 5 Years of Surveillance

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The 2015 American Gastroenterological Association guidelines recommend discontinuation of surveillance of pancreatic cysts after 5 years, although there are limited data to support this recommendation. We aimed to determine the rate of pancreatic cancer development from neoplastic pancreatic cysts after 5 years of surveillance.


We performed a retrospective multicenter study, collecting data from 310 patients with asymptomatic suspected neoplastic pancreatic cysts, identified by endoscopic ultrasound from January 2002 to June 2010 at 4 medical centers in California. All patients were followed up for 5 years or more (median, 87 mo; range, 60–189 mo). Data were used to calculate the risk for pancreatic cancer and all-cause mortality.


Three patients (1%) developed invasive pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Based on American Gastroenterological Association high-risk features (cyst size > 3 cm, dilated pancreatic duct, mural nodule), risks for cancer were 0%, 1%, and 15% for patients with 0, 1, or 2 high-risk features, respectively. Mortality from nonpancreatic causes was 8-fold higher than mortality from pancreatic cancer after more than 5 years of surveillance.


There is a very low risk of malignant transformation of asymptomatic neoplastic pancreatic cysts after 5 years. Patients with pancreatic lesions and 0 or 1 high-risk feature have a less than 1% risk of developing pancreatic cancer, therefore discontinuation of surveillance can be considered for select patients. Patients with neoplastic pancreatic cysts with 2 high-risk features have a 15% risk of subsequent pancreatic cancer, therefore surgery or continued surveillance should be considered.

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