Pancreatic Pathology Online

Contrasting histological features of the obstructed pancreas and pancreatic adenocarcinoma

Dr Sampurna Roy MD                 July 2016


The obstructed pancreas  can be recognized at a low magnification when the lobular nature of the obstructed parenchyma can be identified. 

This is similar to diagnosing sclerosing adenosis in the breast.

Within the pancreatic lobules there is acinoductular transformation (dilatation of acini with loss of zymogen granules) and later marked exocrine atrophy with preservation of islets, which remain in lobules. 

Large interlobular ducts may show papillary hyperplasia but will not show cellular atypia.

Histological features of pancreatic duct obstruction:

- Preservation of lobular architecture

- Dilatation of acini

- Acinoductular transformation

- Progressive loss of exocrine elements

- Residual loss of  ‘lobular’ islets

- Interlobular ductal papillary hyperplasia

- No cytological atypia.

By contrast, at low magnification a pancreatic adenocarcinoma shows no lobular architecture, the duct-like structures being apparently present in the fibrous tissue in a random manner.

Neoplastic ducts tend to be angular, and cytological features of malignancy are common.

Since tumours frequently obstruct large pancreatic ducts, biopsies where both malignancy and obstructive features are present are quite common and recognition of the latter helps in the diagnosis of the tumour since the cytological appearances are usually obvious.

Confusion can occur when malignant ducts invade the obstructed areas of the pancreas but knowledge that this does occur should help in solving the diagnostic problem.

Histological features of pancreatic adenocarcinoma :

- Nuclear pleomorphism                    

- Desmoplastic stroma                             

- ‘Random ducts' in fibrous tissue           

- ‘Angular ducts’                                     

- Papillary projections                              

- Pancreatic obstruction                         

- Prominent nucleolation of tumour cells   

- Obvious mitotic activity                       

- Perineural infiltration 


In chronic calcifying pancreatitis lobules at various stages of obstruction , fibrosis and duct inflammation all occur but the basic anatomy of the pancreas is preserved.

A random distribution of small ducts within the fibrous tissue is not see.

When only duct obstruction is seen on a needle biopsy, a positive diagnosis of chronic calcifying pancreatitis is still difficult because the obstruction could be secondary to a tumour which has been 'missed' by the biopsy.

Careful clinicopathological correlation is required.  

Visit: Chronic Pancreatitis Autoimmune Pancreatitis ; Herpes Simplex Pancreatitis

In summary, most biopsied pancreatic carcinomas can be diagnosed at a low magnification by observing the distribution of the duct structures and lobules.

Higher magnification is used to confirm the diagnosis cytologically.




Dr Sampurna Roy  MD

Consultant  Histopathologist (Kolkata - India)






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