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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 248-253

Endoscopic ultrasound characteristics of pancreatic lymphoepithelial cysts: A case series from a large referral center

1 Department of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
2 Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
3 Department of Radiology, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
4 Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Digestive Disease Institute, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Date of Submission18-Sep-2015
Date of Acceptance06-Jan-2016
Date of Web Publication5-Aug-2016

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2303-9027.187879

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Background and Objectives: Lymphoepithelial cysts (LECs) of the pancreas are benign lesions that can mimic cystic neoplasms on imaging. Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) features have not been well described. We aimed to describe the clinical and EUS characteristics of LECs and the present outcomes of management at a high-volume referral center. Materials and Methods: We identified patients who underwent EUS and were found to have LECs based on fine-needle aspiration (FNA) cytology or surgical pathology from existing databases. EUS features, imaging characteristics, and pathology results were described. Results: Sixteen patients were found to have 17 LECs. The mean size was 33 mm ± 15 mm. Locations within the pancreas included 10 lesions in the tail, 3 in the body, 1 in the uncinate process; the remaining 3 were exophytic. Six lesions were anechoic, 6 were hypoechoic, and 5 had mixed echogenicity. Nine lesions had mixed solid/cystic components, 7 were purely cystic, and 1 was solid. Cyst fluid was thick or viscous in six cases and thin in three. Eleven patients had diagnostic cytopathology. Six patients ultimately underwent surgery due to symptoms, nondiagnostic FNA, or other clinical concerns for malignancy. Conclusions: Pancreatic LECs have variable morphology and echogenicity on EUS, but the appearance of a cyst with variable solid and cystic components combined with the appearance of thick, turbid, and viscous aspirate should raise suspicion for an LEC. The majority of patients with LECs at our center avoided surgery for LECs on the basis of diagnostic EUS-FNA.

Keywords: Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS), lymphoepithelial cyst (LEC), pancreatic cyst

How to cite this article:
Dalal KS, DeWitt JM, Sherman S, Cramer HM, Tirkes T, Al-Haddad MA. Endoscopic ultrasound characteristics of pancreatic lymphoepithelial cysts: A case series from a large referral center. Endosc Ultrasound 2016;5:248-53

How to cite this URL:
Dalal KS, DeWitt JM, Sherman S, Cramer HM, Tirkes T, Al-Haddad MA. Endoscopic ultrasound characteristics of pancreatic lymphoepithelial cysts: A case series from a large referral center. Endosc Ultrasound [serial online] 2016 [cited 2020 Aug 14];5:248-53. Available from: http://www.eusjournal.com/text.asp?2016/5/4/248/187879

  Introduction Top

Lymphoepithelial cysts (LECs) of the pancreas are benign lesions with no malignant potential. The imaging appearance can mimic other cystic neoplasms, and therefore distinguishing LECs and other benign lesions from those with malignancy or malignant potential is important. This is underscored by the fact that pancreatic cysts are increasingly detected due to the widespread use of cross-sectional imaging. [1] However, literature describing imaging and clinical features of LECs is limited to case reports and small case series. Thus, features of such lesions may be less known compared to other lesions of the pancreas.

Clinical and imaging findings of LECs are typically nonspecific. Definitive diagnosis has traditionally relied on surgical histopathology following resection. It has been shown that benign cysts are often indistinguishable from cystic neoplasms on pre-operative imaging, and therefore the patients often undergo unnecessary resection. [2] Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) levels may also be elevated in fluid aspirated from confirmed LECs, [3],[4] which may initially raise the suspicion for a mucinous neoplasm. Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) with fine-needle aspiration (FNA) cytopathology may help diagnose LECs, [5] but cyst cytology may be difficult to interpret due to contamination of the aspirate by intestinal tissue with mucinous and glandular epithelium. [6] Additionally, the absence of classic cytological findings of LEC does not exclude the diagnosis. [7]

EUS may be able to further characterize such lesions based on morphology and cyst fluid analysis. While EUS features of LECs have been previously described, [4],[5] there remains an overall dearth of literature pertaining to EUS findings. Additional studies are needed to better characterize the EUS features of these lesions in order to lend support for their diagnosis and to help avoid unnecessary surgery. In this series, we describe the clinical and EUS characteristics of LECs confirmed on cytology and/or surgical pathology, and present outcomes of management at a high-volume referral center.

  Materials and methods Top

At a single tertiary referral center, EUS, surgical, and cytology databases were accessed and retrospectively reviewed to identify the appropriate patients. All the patients who were diagnosed with pancreatic LECs based on definitive cytopathology or surgical resection pathology between 2004 and 2014 were included in this case series. Each EUS procedure was performed by one of six endosonographers. The EUS images of the LECs were pulled and retrospectively reviewed by an expert endosonographer (MAH) blinded to the original EUS reports to assess for the size, location, border, echogenicity, internal components, and presence of septations. Similarly, reports from computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) acquired before EUS were retrospectively reviewed by a radiologist to determine the location and other radiological features including exophytic appearance. The results of any imaging studies performed in patients managed nonoperatively were also reviewed to assess for changes in the size or morphology of the lesions. Cyst fluid physical characteristics as well as cyst fluid amylase and CEA levels were also retrieved when available. The Institutional Review Board of our medical center approved this study.

FNA cytology results were reviewed and confirmed by an expert cytopathologist. The presence of anucleated and/or nucleated squamous cells admixed with a variable number of lymphocytes in a background of keratinaceous and/or amorphous debris on FNA smears was considered diagnostic of an LEC [Figure 1]. [5],[8] In cases where FNA cytology was nondiagnostic, surgical resection pathology reports were reviewed to confirm the diagnosis of LEC.
Figure 1. Cytology smear of an aspirate from a lymphoepithelial cyst (case 7): anucleated and nucleated squamous cells are noted in the background admixed with a variable number of lymphocytes. (1A: Diff Quick, 10×; 1B: Papanicolaou stain, 10×)

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  Results Top

Sixteen patients (12 males; mean age 57 ± 13 years) with 17 confirmed LECs underwent EUS (1 patient was found to have 2 distinct LECs) [Table 1]. Presenting symptoms included: Abdominal pain in six patients and weight loss in two patients; eight patients were asymptomatic with incidental lesions on cross-sectional imaging performed for unrelated indications. Reports from imaging obtained prior to EUS were available in 13 patients (CT in 6, MRI in 2, and both in 5 patients), accounting for 14 lesions. On CT or MRI, lesions were predominantly located in the tail (N = 8) or body (N = 5); nine of these lesions were exophytic but originated from the tail or body of the pancreas ([Figure 2] for representative CT images of case 5).
Figure 2. Axial contrast enhanced image from a 65-year-old male patient (case 5) performed in arterial (a) and venous (b) phases through the cystic lesion (arrow). Images demonstrate a well-defined exophytic lesion in the body of the pancreas. Postcontrast CT density is 18 Hounsfield units, compatible with a mildly complex cyst. There is no internal enhancement, nodularity, or septation

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Table 1. Imaging and EUS features of pancreatic LECs

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On EUS [Table 1], the mean LEC size was 33 ± 15 mm. Location of LECs within the pancreas were as follows: 10 were in the tail, 3 in the body, 1 in the uncinate process, and 3 were described as exophytic (2 in the body and 1 in the tail). Borders were well-defined in 16 and poorly defined in 1. Echogenicity was described as anechoic in 6, hypoechoic in 6, and mixed in 5 patients. Representative EUS images are shown in [Figure 3].
Figure 3. EUS findings. Case 5 (A+B): Anechoic cyst with lobulated contour and thin, incomplete septations; FNA needle seen in B. Case 8 (C+D): Hypoechoic cyst with irregular contour. Case 9 (E+F): Cyst with mixed echogenicity, regular contour, and internal debris

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Internal components within the lesion were also characterized by EUS. Nine lesions had mixed solid/cystic components (of which 2 were mostly solid and 1 had calcifications), 7 were purely cystic (2 had internal debris), and 1 was solid with no cystic components. Internal septations were noted in 6 (5 with thin or incomplete septations and 1 with thick septations); septations were suggested on imaging in two additional cases, but were not confirmed on EUS. No wall nodularity or pancreatic ductal dilation was noted on EUS, though a mural nodule was seen on MRI in one lesion.

When adequate cyst fluid was aspirated, its consistency was described as thick, mucoid, and/or viscous in six cases and thin in three cases; color was clear in three cases and turbid/opaque in three cases [Table 2]. Median cyst fluid CEA (N = 5) and amylase (n = 6) were 2.4 ng/mL (range 1.3-13,088) and 100 U/mL (range 5-1111), respectively. Eleven LECs (from 11 distinct patients) were diagnosed on the basis of characteristic FNA cytology [Table 2]. In these cases, cytologic exam of the aspirated cyst fluid revealed a combination of nucleated or anucleated squamous cells, keratinous debris, and a variable number of lymphocytes (ranging from scattered to numerous). In a diagnostic FNA case, cholesterol crystals were seen as well. Six cases from five patients had nondiagnostic cytology (five cases with findings of benign, indeterminate cysts based on FNA alone and one case with hypocellular aspirate); the diagnosis of LEC in these cases was established by subsequent surgical resection pathology [Figure 4].
Figure 4. Histopathology from a resected LEC (case 7). Cyst cavity is lined by squamous epithelium and a dense subepithelial rim of lymphoid tissue. External cyst "capsule" consisting of fibrous and adipose tissue is present. Intraluminal keratin and formed laminated layers are seen in 4A (H&E stain, 4×). Higher magnification demonstrating the stratified squamous epithelium and dense subepithelial lymphoid tissue is shown in 4B (H&E stain, 10×)

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Table 2. FNA and cytology features

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Six patients accounting for seven cysts ultimately underwent surgical resection by laparoscopic or open distal pancreatectomy. Two of these patients (totaling 3 cysts) required surgery for abdominal pain attributed to the cyst (cases 7 and 10). In another patient (case 4), FNA cytology was diagnostic for LEC; however, clinical suspicion for a neuroendocrine tumor remained high due to symptomatic hypoglycemia, thus this patient underwent surgical resection. Surgical pathology confirmed LEC in this patient. The remaining three patients underwent surgery for suspected malignancy based on indeterminate clinical and imaging findings and nondiagnostic FNA cytology; one underwent exploratory surgery after imaging suggested a malignant right adrenal lesion with liver invasion (case 12); one was found to have a hypermetabolic focus in and adjacent to the pancreatic cyst (case 13); one had benign FNA cytology, although mutational analysis on the aspirated fluid was performed at a commercial laboratory and revealed several allelic imbalances suggestive of malignancy (case 15). Of the 10 patients who did not have surgical resection, 4 had subsequent imaging available a median 39 months (range 19-62) after EUS; all 4 showed stable (3 cases) or decreased (1 case) cyst size.

  Discussion Top

EUS-FNA is generally recommended for the evaluation of pancreatic cysts detected on imaging to better characterize these lesions and to avoid unnecessary surgical resection of benign cysts. [6] In the current EUS-based case series, which is the largest to date, we found that the majority of patients with LECs at our center avoided surgery for these benign lesions on the basis of diagnostic EUS-FNA.

In our series, the majority of patients were middle-aged males, with a male:female ratio of 3:1 and a mean age of 57 years. Our patient demographic was similar to that described by Yanagimoto et al., who reviewed 106 cases of LECs and found the mean age of presentation to be 56 years, with a male:female ratio of 4:1. [9] The majority of our patients were asymptomatic, while abdominal pain was the most common presenting symptom as has been previously described by others. [9],[10],[11]

Four patients underwent surgery for suspicion of malignancy including one with diagnostic FNA for LEC and three with nondiagnostic cytology. Asymptomatic patients with nondiagnostic cytology who have EUS and cytology features suggestive of an LEC may benefit from observation rather than surgical resection.

We found that EUS morphology of LECs varies considerably from a predominantly solid to purely cystic or a mixed solid/cystic appearance. Lesions were mostly well defined, predominantly anechoic or hypoechoic, and often exophytic on pre-EUS imaging, which should raise the pre-EUS probability of LEC. In our series, the majority of the lesions were localized to or exophytic from the tail of the pancreas, whereas previous studies have reported equal distribution throughout the pancreas. [9],[10]

In a prior EUS-based case series of nine patients, Nasr et al. similarly demonstrated diverse sonographic characteristics of LECs on EUS. [4] The majority of the LECs in that series appeared hypoechoic and solid, with subtle posterior enhancement suggestive of a cystic component. This agrees with our findings of several cases with mixed solid/cystic components. Also, while the majority of our cases had hypoechoic or anechoic cysts on EUS, five cases were noted to have mixed hypo or hyper-echogenicity and another three cases were noted to have echogenic internal debris. Hypoechoic lesions with hyperechoic content has been described in cases outside our series, [5] thus internal debris within the cyst likely account for mixed echogenicity seen in our cases.

On the basis of gross cyst fluid appearance, thick, turbid, and viscous appearing fluid was suggestive of LECs, as reported in 6 out of 10 cases in this series. Similarly, Nasr et al. showed that a thick milky, creamy, or frothy aspirate should raise suspicion for LECs. [4] Cyst fluid CEA and amylase levels were highly variable in our series, as has been previously demonstrated. [3],[4] Therefore, these may not be useful markers.

In a single patient in our series, two distinct LECs were ultimately diagnosed based on surgical pathology, though preoperative FNA cytology described a differential diagnosis for a benign cyst including a dermoid or epidermoid cyst (cases 10 and 11). EUS reports of pancreatic dermoid cysts are rare, with isolated case reports describing a multilocular hypoechoic appearance [12] or complex, honeycomb lesion with histiocytes, benign epithelial cells, and lymphocytes seen on cytology. [13] The ability to discern LEC from other benign cysts on EUS, particularly dermoid and epidermoid cysts, can be difficult and requires further studies.

With the frequent detection of pancreatic cysts on imaging, it is likely that LECs will be increasingly reported and characterized in the literature. We anticipate that EUS will continue to play an important role in conjunction with cross-sectional imaging and FNA cytology to differentiate the benign lesions from malignant ones, and help avert surgery in asymptomatic patients. The appearance of an exophytic cyst with variable solid and cystic components combined with the appearance of thick, turbid, and viscous aspirate should raise suspicion for an LEC.

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Conflicts of interest

None relevant to this manuscript.

  References Top

Lee KS, Sekhar A, Rofsky NM, et al. Prevalence of incidental pancreatic cysts in the adult population on MR imaging. Am J Gastroenterol 2010;105:2079-84.   Back to cited text no. 1
Assifi MM, Nguyen PD, Agrawal N, et al. Non-neoplastic epithelial cysts of the pancreas: A rare, benign entity. J Gastrointest Surg 2014;18:523-31.   Back to cited text no. 2
Centeno BA, Stockwell JW, Lewandrowski KB. Cyst fluid cytology and chemical features in a case of lymphoepithelial cyst of the pancreas: A rare and difficult preoperative diagnosis. Diagn Cytopathol 1999;21:328-30.   Back to cited text no. 3
Nasr J, Sanders M, Fasanella K, et al. Lymphoepithelial cysts of the pancreas: An EUS case series. Gastrointest Endosc 2008;68:170-3.   Back to cited text no. 4
Ahlawat SK. Lymphoepithelial cyst of the pancreas. Role of endoscopic ultrasound guided fine needle aspiration. JOP 2008;9:230-4.  Back to cited text no. 5
Karim Z, Walker B, Lam E. Lymphoepithelial cysts of the pancreas: The use of endoscopic ultrasound-guided fine-needle aspiration in diagnosis. Can J Gastroenterol 2010;24:348-50.  Back to cited text no. 6
Renou C, Giovannini M, Monges G, et al. Pitfalls of cyst fluid findings obtained by endoscopic ultrasonography fine-needle aspiration on a pancreatic lymphoepithelial cyst. Am J Gastroenterol 2007;102:213-5.  Back to cited text no. 7
Mandavilli SR, Port J, Ali SZ. Lymphoepithelial cyst (LEC) of the pancreas: Cytomorphology and differential diagnosis on fine-needle aspiration (FNA). Diagn Cytopathol 1999;20:371-4.  Back to cited text no. 8
Yanagimoto H, Satoi S, Toyokawa H, et al. Laparoscopic distal pancreatectomy for a pancreatic lymphoepithelial cyst: Case report and review of literature. JOP 2013;14:664-8.   Back to cited text no. 9
Sewkani A, Purohit D, Singh V, et al. Lymphoepithelial cyst of the pancreas: A rare case report and review of literature. Indian J Surg 2010;72:427-32.   Back to cited text no. 10
Adsay NV, Hasteh F, Cheng JD, et al. Lymphoepithelial cysts of the pancreas: A report of 12 cases and a review of the literature. Mod Pathol 2002;15:492-501.  Back to cited text no. 11
Urata T, Izumi Y, Takekuma Y, et al. A case of dermoid cyst of the pancreas. Nihon Shokakibyo Gakkai Zasshi 2012;109:1791-8.  Back to cited text no. 12
Lyons DA, Coberly EA, Hammoud GM, et al. Case report of pancreatic dermoid cyst: Can fine needle aspiration make the diagnosis? JOP 2013;14:653-6.  Back to cited text no. 13


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4]

  [Table 1], [Table 2]

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