Pancreatic lymphoepithelial cysts express CEA and can contain mucous cells: Potential pitfalls in the preoperative diagnosis

Jay S. Raval, Herbert J. Zeh, A. James Moser, Kenneth K. Lee, Michael K. Sanders, Sarah Navina, Shih Fan Kuan, Alyssa M. Krasinskas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Pancreatic lymphoepithelial cysts are rare benign cysts that cannot be reliably differentiated from neoplastic mucinous cysts preoperatively. Although elevated cyst fluid carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) levels support a diagnosis of a mucinous cyst, the finding of increased CEA levels in lymphoepithelial cysts prompted this study. Nine resected lymphoepithelial cysts were examined for expression of CEA, carbohydrate antigen (CA) 19-9, CK7, p63, PAS-D and a panel of mucins. The pathology data were correlated with clinical information, including serum, cyst fluid and imaging studies. By computed tomography scan, although most lymphoepithelial cysts appeared cystic, 23% were described as masses. The endoscopic ultrasound findings were variable, but the lymphoepithelial cysts tended to be hypoechoic cystic lesions or masses. On cytology, 44% of the cysts had squamous cells, 67% had glandular cells and 56% had atypical cells. The cysts were resected because of size ≥3 cm (89%), symptoms (44%) and/or elevated cyst fluid CEA levels (33%). The cyst fluid CEA levels in the three cysts tested were 450 ng/ml. Histopathologically, all cysts were lined by mature, stratified squamous-type cells and produced keratin. Mucous cells were present in 78% of the cysts. The immunohistochemical profile of the squamous lining was CK7+, p63+, MUC1, MUC4+, MUC2, MUC5AC -and MUC6-. Even though lymphoepithelial cysts are lined by squamous-type epithelium, all our resected lymphoepithelial cysts expressed CEA and/or CA19-9, many contained mucous cells, and three exhibited markedly elevated cyst fluid CEA levels. Although cyst fluid CEA levels 200 ng/ml support the diagnosis of mucinous neoplasms, this study emphasizes the need for clinicians and pathologists to recognize that lymphoepithelial cysts can mimic neoplastic mucinous cysts clinically, radiographically and on cyst fluid CEA analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1467-1476
Number of pages10
JournalModern Pathology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • carcinoembryonic antigen
  • endoscopic ultrasound
  • fine needle aspiration
  • lymphoepithelial cyst
  • pancreatic mucinous cyst

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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