Because of new and improved imaging techniques, cystic/intraductal pancreatobiliary tract lesions are increasingly being discovered, and brushings or endoscopic ultrasound/computed tomography/magnetic resonance imaging–guided fine-needle aspiration biopsies from these lesions have become an integral part of pathologists' daily practice. Because patient management has become increasingly conservative, accurate preoperative diagnosis is critical. Cytologic distinction of low-risk (pseudocysts, serous cystadenoma, lymphoepithelial cysts, and squamoid cysts of the pancreatic duct) from high-risk pancreatic cysts (intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm and mucinous cystic neoplasm) requires incorporation of clinical, radiologic, and cytologic findings, in conjunction with chemical and molecular analysis of cyst fluid. Cytopathologists must ensure appropriate specimen triage, along with cytologic interpretation, cyst classification, and even grading of some (mucinous) cysts. Epithelial atypia in mucinous cysts (intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm and mucinous cystic neoplasm) has transitioned from a 3-tiered to a 2-tiered classification system, and intraductal oncocytic papillary neoplasms and intraductal tubulopapillary neoplasms have been separately reclassified because of their distinctive clinicopathologic characteristics. Because these lesions may be sampled on brushing or fine-needle aspiration biopsy, knowledge of their cytomorphology is critical.


To use an integrated, multidisciplinary approach for the evaluation of cystic/intraductal pancreatobiliary tract lesions (incorporating clinical, radiologic, and cytologic findings with [chemical/molecular] cyst fluid analysis and ancillary stains) for definitive diagnosis and classification.

Data Sources.—

Review of current literature on the cytopathology of cystic/intraductal pancreatobiliary tract lesions.


Our knowledge/understanding of recent updates in cystic/intraductal pancreatobiliary lesions can ensure that cytopathologists appropriately triage specimens, judiciously use and interpret ancillary studies, and incorporate the studies into reporting.

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Author notes

The author has no relevant financial interest in the products or companies described in this article.

Presented in part at the Companion Meeting of the Pancreatobiliary Pathology Society at the United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology Annual Meeting; February 29, 2020; Los Angeles, California.