Background: Detection of cystic lesions of the pancreas has outpaced our ability to stratify low-grade cystic lesions from those at greater risk for pancreatic cancer, raising a concern for overtreatment. Methods: We developed a Markov decision model to determine the cost-effectiveness of guideline-based management for asymptomatic pancreatic cysts. Incremental costs per quality-adjusted life year gained and survival were calculated for current management guidelines. A sensitivity analysis estimated the effect on cost-effectiveness and mortality if overtreatment of low-grade cysts is avoided, and the sensitivity and specificity thresholds required of methods of cyst stratification to improve costs expended. Results: “Surveillance” using current management guidelines had an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of $171,143/quality adjusted life year compared with no surveillance or operative treatment (“do nothing”). An incremental cost-effectiveness ratio for surveillance decreases to $80,707/quality adjusted life year if the operative overtreatment of low-grade cysts was avoided. Assuming a societal willingness-to-pay of $100,000/quality adjusted life year, the diagnostic specificity for high-risk cysts must be >67% for surveillance to be preferred over surgery and “do nothing.” Changes in sensitivity alone cannot make surveillance cost-effective. Most importantly, survival in surveillance is worse than “do nothing” for 3 years after cyst diagnosis, although long-term survival is improved. The disadvantage is eliminated when overtreatment of low-grade cysts is avoided. Conclusion: Current management of pancreatic cystic lesions is not cost-effective and may increase mortality owing to overtreatment of low-grade cysts. The specificity for risk stratification for high-risk cysts must be greater than 67% to make surveillance cost-effective.
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