Few people think about their pancreases daily – and if it is working properly, why should you?
The main function of the pancreas is two-fold. First, it realizes powerful digestive enzymes into the small intestine to aid in the digestion of food. Secondly, it monitors and releases hormones like insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream as a means to control how the body uses food for energy. However, when a person suffers from pancreatitis, the pancreas becomes inflamed due to damage caused by the early activation of these enzymes which causes damage to the pancreas. Needless to say, this is bad, but can be treatable and often lead to a full recovery.
But what about pancreatic cysts you may ask yourself? Or not. Perhaps we should rephrase and cover what pancreatic cysts are and then decide if they are something to worry about.
Pancreatic cysts are, according to the Mayo Clinic, are saclike pockets of fluid on or in your pancreas, a large organ behind the stomach that produces hormones and enzymes that help digest food. Most pancreatic cysts aren’t cancerous, and many don’t cause symptoms.
They seem harmless enough, that is until you read that tricky and frightening phrase “Most pancreatic cysts aren’t cancerous,” which is enough to put some concern in anybody’s mind, and this new research isn’t helping.
A study that looked at history of patients in the Veterans Health Administration database, which included 520,970 patients, came up with some interesting findings.
According to the study, certain types of pancreatic cysts, known as mucinous neoplasms, are known to be found to have malignant (cancer causing) potential based on their structure. This ‘potential’ can either be monitored or removed to prevent the risk of something serious down the road.
However, there are other types of pancreatic cysts that can be present that don’t share the same “potentially malignant” structure (known as morphologically benign), as other cysts but that are still potentially dangerous.
The problem up until this point was that previous studies never followed patients over a period longer than two years, meaning that researchers are slightly in the dark when it comes to the over-all long-term risks of pancreatic cysts and their relation to cancer.
Through this extended study, researchers found that the overall risk of developing pancreatic cancer was thought to be 19.64 times greater if the patient was found to have pancreatic cysts, regardless of the type.
This new development is causing doctors and researchers to keep a closer on all the small variables, including cysts, that can be present in patients with pancreatic problems. While some might argue this is something that should have been looked at years ago, it is still reassuring that doctors and researchers are exploring new avenues in order to help keep us healthy.