Frozen sections are essential in the surgical management of patients, especially those with pancreatic masses, because frozen sections can provide answers intraoperatively and aid in treatment decisions. Pancreas frozen sections are challenging because of the small tissue size, processing artifacts, neoadjuvant treatment effects, and concurrent pancreatitis-like obstructive changes. The authors present a review of intraoperative evaluation of pancreatic specimens.


To provide an approach to the diagnosis of pancreatic adenocarcinoma on frozen sections and to discuss commonly encountered pitfalls. Indications for pancreas frozen sections and specific margin evaluation will be discussed. We will also review frozen section diagnosis of subcapsular liver lesions and tumors other than metastases of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.

Data Sources.—

Data sources included a literature review and the personal experiences of the authors.


The features for diagnosis of pancreatic adenocarcinoma include disordered architecture, glands at abnormal locations, and atypical cytology. It is important to be aware of the pitfalls and clues on frozen section. The evaluation of resection margins can be challenging, and in the setting of the resection of cystic tumors, the key is the diagnosis of high-grade dysplasia or cancer. Finally, it is vital to remember the differential diagnosis for subcapsular liver lesions because not all lesions will be metastases of adenocarcinomas or bile duct adenomas. Frozen sections remain a useful tool for the intraoperative management of patients with pancreatic tumors.

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Author notes

Vazzano and Chen contributed equally to this manuscript

Presented in part at the Companion Meeting of the Pancreatobiliary Pathology Society at the 2023 United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology Annual Meeting; March 12, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana.

The authors have no relevant financial interest in the products or companies described in this article.