The Benign Pancreatic Tumor
A benign pancreatic tumor is a growth that does not invade tissues nearby. Also, its cells do not metastasize, or break off and circulate through the body to settle new areas. This differs from a malignant, or cancerous, tumor, which will try to conquer the entire body. The types of growths on the pancreas that are classified as benign are usually cystic tumors and some kinds of neuroendocrine tumors.
Cystic pancreatic tumors, also called cystadenomas, grow on the pancreas surface. They are very rare, with only 150 cases reported since their discovery in 1981. In North America and abroad, cystic tumors of the pancreas account for only 1 percent of growths found on the pancreas. Most cystic pancreatic tumors occur in younger women, though 80 percent of a cyst type called mucinous cystic neoplasms occurs in women around 54 years of age.
Unlike solid tumors, cysts resemble masses containing debris. This structural difference is part of what makes most cysts benign. Still, some pancreatic cysts, usually neuroendocrine and mucinous cystic neoplasms (MCNs), can mutate into cancerous growths. In a study, 64 percent of patients with MCNs had malignant cysts. But 63 percent of these were treatable. Only 22 percent had spread to other regions.
Another type of usually benign tumor is the insulinoma of the neuroendocrine system. Less than 10 percent of these become malignant. Insulinomas are called functioning tumors, because they secrete the hormone insulin. Symptoms of this include behavioral changes and confusion, hallucinations, sweats, weakness, tremors, and even seizures. Insulin causes cells like muscle cells and others to absorb sugar. Because of this, people with this benign pancreatic tumor are overweight.
Though the term benign implies harmlessness or lack of damaging characteristics, benign pancreatic tumors are not truly harmless. In fact, few tumors are truly harmless. First, they can mutate into cancerous cells, and second, the symptoms they can produce are bothersome at best. When pancreatic tumors display symptoms they can be bleeding causing anemia and pressure causing pain, loss of appetite, nausea, and weight loss. And about 50 percent of serous cystadenomas and 20 percent of MCNs display no symptoms.
Because of their lack of symptoms, most benign pancreatic tumors are accidentally discovered during other procedures, such as a radiological evaluation. Even when found, 37 percent are misdiagnosed as pseudo cysts. This delays proper treatment, giving the cyst the chance to become malignant. But if doctors remove the cyst, they find differences between true pancreatic cysts and pseudo cysts that lead to a correct diagnosis. Thus, tissue samples gathered via needles guided by CT scans are most often used to diagnose the growths.
Doctors usually treat the cysts and benign tumors through minimally invasive techniques like laparoscopic procedures. Small pancreas resections are also used. These surgery types decrease recovery time and discomfort.
Though not considered as life-threatening as other growths, a benign pancreatic tumor can become malignant or grow to a size that interferes with the body's systems. Fortunately, the tumors can be removed with ease, and after removal they and rarely reappear.