The examination of small pancreatic biopsies is a difficult task for pathologists. This is due to the scant and fragmented material often obtained from diagnostic procedures as well as the significant overlap between different neoplastic and nonneoplastic entities. In the upcoming neoadjuvant era, biopsies could become even more important, representing the only possibility to look at the real histomorphology of tumors before chemotherapy-induced modifications.


To summarize and discuss the state-of-the-art diagnostic workflow for small pancreatic biopsies, including the most important morphologic and immunohistochemical features and molecular alterations. The main diagnostic pearls and pitfalls of this challenging scenario are also discussed. The most important topics of this review are represented by: (1) pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, along with its main differential diagnoses, including autoimmune pancreatitis; (2) solid hypercellular neoplasms, including neuroendocrine neoplasms, acinar cell carcinoma, pancreatoblastoma, and solid pseudopapillary neoplasms; and (3) cystic lesions. Real-world considerations will be also presented and discussed.

Data Sources.—

Sources included a literature review of published studies and the author’s own work.


The correct diagnosis of pancreatic lesions is a crucial step in the therapeutic journey of patients. It should be based on robust, standardized, and reliable hallmarks. As presented and discussed here, the integration of morphology with immunohistochemistry, and in selected cases, with molecular analysis, represents a decisive step in this complex scenario.

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Competing Interests

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

Author notes

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, LA.