The Pancreas in Familial Adenomatous Polyposis

Alaa Elkharwily, Klaus Gottlieb
Internal Medicine Spokane Residency, University of Washington Affiliate. Spokane, WA, USA
Familial adenomatous polyposis is an
archetypal disease illustrating the genetic
basis of human cancer. The adenomatous
polyposis coli gene functions as a tumor
suppressor with hundreds of known mutations
that result in a defective adenomatous
polyposis coli protein. In addition to the
certain fate of colon cancer without
adenomatous polyposis are also at increased
risk for other types of neoplasms, including
those which affect the pancreas. This review
focuses on periampullary and ampullary
tumors, benign and malignant pancreatic
neoplasms that are associated with familial
adenomatous polyposis and Gardner
syndrome and pancreatitis in these patients.
An individualized surveillance regimen is
suggested which for certain patients could
include endoscopic ultrasound.
Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) is an
autosomal dominant disease characterized by
hundreds and thousands colonic adenomatous
polyps that most often emerge in the second
and third decades of life. Colon cancer is
inevitable if the colon is not resected,
fortunately this condition accounts for only
one percent of all colorectal cancers. Gardner
syndrome (GS) is a variant of FAP with the
addition of extracolonic lesions. Though the
extraintestinal growths do not define a
genetically separate syndrome from FAP, the
term GS is used quite often by patients and
physicians when the extraintestinal lesions
represent a dominant part of the clinical
FAP was first linked to extracolonic
manifestations in 1923 by Nichols, when he
described the association of FAP and desmoid
tumors [1]. In 1951, Gardner described FAP
associated with a number of extracolonic
growths, including fibromas, osteomas, and
manifestations of the underlying genetic
defect such as dental abnormalities, desmoid
tumors and other lesions were later
recognized. A variation of FAP, attenuated
FAP, is characterized by fewer polyps, later
onset of cancer and lower penetrance (not all
individuals with the gene defect will develop
cancer). Extracolonic manifestations in
FAP/GS directly involve the pancreas in
approximately one percent of cases [3].
Lesions reported have been benign,
precancerous and cancerous. Furthermore,
pancreatic duct obstruction with or without
pancreatitis caused by benign or malignant
tumors is not observed infrequently.
Both FAP and GS arise from adenomatous
polyposis coli (APC) gene mutations [4, 5].
Inheritance is autosomal dominant with near
complete penetrance of the colonic phenotype
but variable penetrance of the extraintestinal
manifestations of the disease. It is important
to note that many of the different
extraintestinal lesions correlate with
mutations at specific locations of the APC
gene [6]. Colonic adenomatosis, duodenal
polyposis, colon and gastric cancer risk

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associated with GS were shown to be
identical to FAP; and if affected patients are
examined thoroughly, extraintestinal growths
can be found in many FAP families [7].
GS also cannot be separated from FAP when
considering its overall prevalence. Estimates
for the combined syndromes vary from 1 in
6,850 to 1 in 31,250 (2.29 to 3.2 cases per
100,000 persons) [8, 9]. The incidence of
FAP is 1 case in 7,500 live births and is due
to congenital inheritance in a Mendelian
dominant fashion in 80% of patients. The
remaining 20% represent spontaneous
mutations, with no family history reported [8].
One person per million population is
diagnosed with GS.
GS is associated with several benign
extraintestinal growths and patients are at
increased risk for several extracolonic
malignancies. Benign extraintestinal growths
include osteomas and dental abnormalities,
cutaneous lesions, desmoid tumors,
congenital hypertrophy of the retinal pigment
epithelium, adrenal adenomas, and nasal
angiofibroma. The following malignancies
have been described in various studies:
duodenal and periampullary (3 to 5% of
patients with GS), thyroid (2%), pancreatic
(2%), hepatoblastoma (1.6%), central nervous
system (less than 1%), gastric (0.6%), small
bowel distal to the duodenum and adrenal.
Involvement of the Pancreas in FAP/GS
Pancreatic lesions linked or associated with
FAP/GS are scarce. The following section
will review and discuss the various types of
pancreatic lesions that were reported in
linkage or association to FAP/GS including
benign, precancerous, cancerous and other
FAP/GS and Periampullary Lesions
Though data suggest that many if not most
ampullary/periampullary tumors are more
analogous to intestinal than pancreatic
neoplasms [3, 10, 11, 12], we think the review
of ampullary/periampullary tumors in
association with FAP/GS should be included
here based on clinical presentation.
Furthermore, tumors can develop in deeper
parts of the ampulla, which are lined by
pancreaticobiliary duct mucosa. Intestinal-type
adenocarcinoma and pancreaticobiliary-type
adenocarcinoma represent the main
histological types of ampullary carcinoma.
Interestingly, molecular alterations in
ampullary carcinomas are similar to those of
colorectal as well as pancreatic carcinomas,
although they have different frequencies. In
addition, it can be difficult to distinguish a
primary ampullary lesion such as carcinoma
from other periampullary tumors pre-
operatively [13] (Figure 1).
Benign neoplasms of the ampulla of Vater are
rare, representing less than 10% of
periampullary neoplasms [14, 15]. FAP/GS
patients often develop periampullary
adenomas that may progress to periampullary
cancer, a common cause of death in this
population. The most common benign lesions
are villous and tubulovillous adenomas. With
the extensive availability of flexible
endoscopy and the widespread application of
screening and surveillance programs for
high-risk patients with FAP, ampullary
adenomas are being increasingly recognized
[16, 17, 18, 19, 20]. In autopsy series the
prevalence of ampullary adenomas was
Figure 1. In FAP the pancreas may be affected by
ampullary and periampullary neoplasms, pancreatitis,
pancreatic adenocarcinoma and a variety of rarer
neoplasms. [From: Arthur William Mayo Robson,
Percy John Cammidge. The Pancreas, Its Surgery and
Pathology. Philadelphia, PA, USA: Saunders, 1907, p.

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estimated to be ranging from 0.04 to 0.12%
[21, 22, 23].
described elsewhere in the gastrointestinal
tract appears to also apply to the progression
of ampullary adenomas to carcinoma [14, 24].
The adenoma-carcinoma sequence was
morphologically recognized in a minute
carcinoma in an adenoma of the papilla of
Vater [21]. Nevertheless, these studies [14, 21,
24] were not designed to examine the
progression to carcinoma in FAP patients
specifically. In contrast, Mizumoto et al.
studied the role of telomerase in
periampullary tumor progression in patients
with FAP [25]. Telomerase was found to be
activated even in normal mucosa of FAP
patients and the telomerase activation level
was thought to reflect the malignant potential
of these periampullary neoplasms.
The risk of periampullary cancer in FAP is
unclear, and variables that predict the
occurrence and biological behavior of
periampullary tumors are not well understood.
Sanabria et al. have postulated that
occurrence and severity of periampullary
neoplasms in patients with FAP segregates in
families [26]. This familial association may
be related to as yet unidentified modifier
genes or perhaps common environmental
Individuals with FAP/GS may have a 100- to
200-fold increased risk of developing
periampullary carcinoma when compared to
the general population [27]. The incidence of
ampullary tumors is increased 200- to
300-fold among patients with hereditary
polyposis syndromes, such as FAP and
hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer
[28, 29]. The impact of FAP on the
tumorigenesis and mortality involving several
organs was studied by Iwama et al. [30]. In
this Japanese study the organ-specific
morbidity and mortality rates of malignant
tumor in FAP patients were compared with
those of the general population. The
observed/expected mortality ratio was 250:1
(95% confidence interval: 112-447) for
periampullary and small intestinal
Periampullary malignancies of the intestinal
type have a worse prognosis than true
ampullary cancers of pancreatic origin. In
contrast, in ampullary cancers of pancreatic
origin, resectability rates are higher (over
90% in contemporary series), and 5-year
survival rates are approximately 30 to 50%,
even in patients with lymph node involvement
[13, 31, 32].
Other pancreatic precancerous lesions that
have been reported in association with
FAP/GS include three cases of intraductal
papillary mucinous pancreatic neoplasms [33,
34, 35], two pancreatic duct adenomas [36],
and one high-grade pancreatic intraepithelial
neoplasia (PanIN-3) [37]. However, in the
latter report it was not very clear if
adenomatous changes of the pancreatic duct
transformation (nonmucinous) of the major
pancreatic ducts or mere extension from the
adjacent adenomatous duodenal epithelium.
The authors cautioned that more studies and
reports are needed to establish a clear link.
A possible genetic link between FAP/GS and
intraductal papillary mucinous pancreatic
neoplasms was investigated by Maire et al.
[33]. A patient with FAP presented with an
intraductal papillary mucinous pancreatic
tumor (IPMT). Histological examination of
the resected specimen confirmed IPMT with
in situ carcinoma. Genetic analysis showed
loss of the wild allele of the APC gene in
IPMT, causing inactivation of both alleles
demonstrating that IPMT was probably not
incidental in this patient. Twelve months after
resection, the patient remained free of
recurrent tumor.
Another report of IPMT involves a
67-year-old man with a clinical diagnosis of
attenuated FAP and a past history of
synchronous colon cancers in the transverse
colon. Additionally, several foci of
heterotopic gastric oxyntic mucosa were
noted in the duodenum, interspersed with flat
and polypoid adenomas. The duodenal
adenomas showed low grade dysplasia and
loss of APC protein expression, but retention
of beta catenin staining localized to the
nucleus and cytoplasm. The IPMN in the

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pancreas showed an identical immuno-
histochemical profile to the duodenal
adenomas. Although the patient did not show
germ line truncating APC mutations or
mutations in the MYH gene, the authors were
of the opinion that the past history, clinical
features, and immunohistochemical profile of
the various lesions established a strong link
between IPMN and FAP/GS [34].
Komorowski et al. [36] present a patient with
FAP/GS who developed polyps with
carcinoma in situ of the common bile duct
and ampulla of Vater, along with extensive
adenomatous changes in the duodenum,
gallbladder, extrahepatic bile ducts, and main
pancreatic duct.
Mutations and Linkage to FAP/GS
Reports of malignancies of the pancreas in
association with FAP/GS are rare and involve
a variety of cell lines. Exocrine, endocrine,
and stromal pancreatic tissues have all been
reported as sites for malignancies in
association with FAP/GS. Whether there is a
true linkage or association by coincidence is
unclear. However, pancreatic adenocarcinoma
has been described in a variety cancer
susceptibility syndromes associated with
germline mutations in p16, BRCA1, BRCA2,
and APC [38]. Needless to say, more reports
and studies are considered necessary to
support linkage and or association. Due to the
rarity of these and other types of malignancies
reported in association to FAP, true linkage
will be difficult to prove.
The risk of pancreatic adenocarcinoma in
FAP/GS has been estimated to be increased
more than four-fold compared to the general
population (RR: 4.46; 95% CI: 1.2 to 11.4).
The absolute lifetime risk is still low at about
2%, however [39]. FAP is caused by
mutations in the 5q21 gene locus, but most
pancreatic carcinomas are associated with
other mutations such as K-ras (12p12), 17p,
18q (DCC locus), p53 (17p13), etc. [40, 41,
42, 43, 44, 45].
Unfortunately, reports on mutations of the
APC gene in human pancreatic cancers are
limited and have conflicting findings. For
example, Neuman et al. [46] suggest that
inactivation of the APC gene on chromosome
5 may be an initiating step for carcinomas of
the stomach and pancreas as well as of the
colon, but that the genes involved in tumor
progression events may be tissue- or
tumor-specific [46]. Chromosome 5 allele
loss occurred at the same frequency in all
three gastrointestinal tumors (approximately
30%). Horii et al. reported somatic mutations
of the APC gene in 4 of 10 pancreatic cancers
in their series [47], Yashima et al., however,
reported the mutation in only 1 of 39
pancreatic cancers [48]. Gupta and Mazzara
[37] noted that the variant results of these two
studies can be explained in part by the fact
that Horii et al. examined a much more
extensive region of the 5q gene and used an
RNase detection method as opposed to the
polymerase chain reaction-single-strand
conformation polymorphism method used by
Yashima et al.. Furthermore, the studies
reporting the contribution of the APC gene in
human pancreatic cancers have involved
Japanese patients, and it may be possible that
there are differences in the molecular
pathogenesis of pancreatic cancers in that
population group [49].
Seymour et al., McKie et al., and Ding et al.
found no APC mutations in pancreatic
carcinomas [44, 49, 50]. Gupta and Mazzara
emphasize that pancreatic cancers usually
have abundant desmoplastic stroma
surrounding malignant glands and they
suggest that disproportionate sampling of this
reactive stroma could cause a false-negative
result [37].
Another example of exocrine tissue tumor in
association with FAP/GS is acinar cell
carcinoma. The pancreas is composed
predominantly of acinar cells but, curiously,
acinar cell carcinoma accounts for only 1% of
all primary pancreatic neoplasms. The first
description of the association of FAP/GS with
acinar cell carcinoma of the pancreas was
reported by Seket et al. [51]. A 65-year-old
patient with a history of FAP/GS developed
advanced duodenal polyposis and a
synchronous 25 mm tumor of the pancreatic
neck. The patient had a total pancreatectomy

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and antrectomy. Histological examination
revealed an acinar cell carcinoma of the
pancreas and duodenal adenomas showed
low- and high-grade dysplasia but not cancer.
To date, this is the only reported case showing
histology of this nature. Stewart et al.
reported a pancreatic glucagonoma in
association with FAP [52].
Pancreatoblastomas are unusual malignant
neoplasms typically encountered in the
pediatric age group that may also rarely affect
clinicopathologically distinct from adult
pancreatic ductal carcinomas and resemble
other infantile embryonal tumors. Abraham et
al. described molecular alterations in the
APC/beta-catenin pathway in 6 of 9 patients
with pancreatoblastomas, one of which had
the FAP mutation [53]. They concluded that
pancreatoblastomas may represent an
extracolonic manifestation of FAP.
We are reporting the case of a 66-year-old
woman with GS who had an unusually fast
growing adenocarcinoma of the pancreatic tail
following a Whipple procedure years earlier
for an ampullary carcinoma (unpublished
FAP/GS and Other Neoplastic Lesions of
the Pancreas
Benign lesions of the pancreas directly related
to FAP/GS are very rare. Desmoid tumors
(also referred to as desmoid fibromatosis) are
histologically benign fibrous neoplasms
originating from the musculoaponeurotic
structures. They are rarely encountered in the
abdomen, and if they are, tend to be
associated with FAP/GS. Pho et al. report a
cystic pancreatic lesion involving the distal
pancreas in a 17-year-old male with known
FAP [54]. Histopathological examination of
the resected specimen showed a benign
pancreatic cyst and fibrous plaque with
desmoid fibromatosis adherent to the surface
of the pancreas, serosa of the stomach, and
colon. The fibrous plaque was histologically
identical to the fibrous mesenteric plaque
known to occur in FAP and associated
mesenteric fibromatosis.
Desmoid tumors may represent a somewhat
different disease in FAP/GS than in patients
without an APC gene mutation. They are rare
in the general population (5 to 6 per million
per year) [55] but in FAP affect from 4 to
20% of patients [56, 57, 58]. When present in
any member of an FAP family, the family has
traditionally been said to have GS, since all
members of the family exhibit the same APC
mutation. Desmoid tumors may be the first
manifestation of GS, and some families have
been reported to have desmoids as the only
manifestation of an APC mutation [59, 60].
Desmoid tumors in GS are monoclonal
growths, implying that they are true
neoplasms [61]. Desmoids in FAP also arise
from APC inactivation and subsequent
accumulation of beta-catenin in cells [62]. In
contrast, APC mutations are uncommon in
sporadic desmoids [63]. It has also been
reported that the high rate of postoperative
recurrence for intra-abdominal desmoids in
genetically predisposed cases differed
markedly from the low rate of recurrence after
resection of sporadic tumors [64].
A periampullary carcinoid tumor was reported
in a patient with FAP several years after total
colostomy [65]. Only two previous case
reports exist describing carcinoid tumors in
association with FAP. No known genetic
basis exists explaining the link between FAP
and carcinoid tumors, however the presence
of two rare entities in the same patient might
suggest an association.
Pancreatitis in FAP/GS
Pancreatitis can be a severe and potentially
lethal complication associated with FAP/GS.
Though acute pancreatitis is a rare event, with
an estimated incidence of around 5 to10 per
100,000 inhabitants in Western Europe [66],
the incidence of acute pancreatitis may be
higher in the FAP patient population. In one
series [67], the frequency of pancreatitis in
FAP was 3.5% (5/141). In a review by van
Esch et al., more than the half of the patients
had several episodes of pancreatitis with the
first episode occurring at a mean of 45 years
(range: 23-72 years) [68]. Causes of pancreatitis

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in FAP patients include endoscopic
instrumentation and obstruction of the
pancreatic or common bile duct because of
ampullary/periampullary tumors, most
commonly adenomas. A number of instances
of apparently idiopathic pancreatitis were also
reported. Also in the review by Van Esch et
al., the cause of pancreatitis in 5 of 7 patients
could not be determined, as none of the
patients had obstruction of the ampulla and
other common risk factors for pancreatitis
were absent [68]. Furthermore, other risk
factors for pancreatitis such as pancreatic
serine protease inhibitor Kazal type I
(SPINK1) gene mutations were ruled out.
Although this does not exclude the possibility
that SPINK1 plays a role in FAP-associated
pancreatitis, it appears less likely. In that
report, it was suggested that pancreatitis may
be a manifestation of FAP although the actual
mechanism was unclear. In most cases the
clinical course of the pancreatitis was benign,
although one fatality was described.
Surveillance for Pancreatic Lesions in
FAP/GS Patients
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer are vague and
often are nonspecific. Consequently, vigilance,
awareness and increased suspicion by the
clinician represents the most critical approach
for detecting pancreatic lesions in FAP/GS
patients. Pancreatic cancer should be
suspected in patients with adult onset diabetes
who have no predisposing features or family
history of diabetes; or in patients who have
had an unexplained episode of acute
pancreatitis. Alarming symptoms and signs
such as persistent back pain, marked and
rapid weight loss, abdominal mass, ascites,
and supraclavicular lymphadenopathy always
raise a high suspicion for pancreatic cancer.
When the diagnosis of pancreatic malignancy
is suspected from clinical symptoms and/or
abdominal ultrasound findings, the selective
use of multidetector CT scan with pancreatic
protocol and EUS/FNA will accurately
delineate tumor size, infiltration, and the
presence of metastatic disease in the majority
of cases.
Cancer risk is one of the greatest challenges
facing clinicians involved in the care of
patients with FAP/GS, and with improved
survival following prophylactic colectomy,
the burden of associated extracolonic lesions
will increase. Until recently, the value of
upper gastrointestinal surveillance in FAP/GS
populations has been contentious, but with
improved understanding of the natural history
coupled with developments in surgery,
interventional endoscopy and medical therapy,
treatment algorithms for gastrointestinal
lesions in FAP are becoming more available
[69]. Furthermore, variable endoscopic
surveillance protocols and treatment strategies
have been proposed with upper endoscopy for
gastric and duodenal polyps [17, 70, 71, 72]
and ampullary/periampullary neoplasia in
FAP/GS [35, 36]. Obtaining routine biopsies
of the papilla, even if it appears grossly
normal is recommended by some. For patients
with periampullary adenomas, surveillance
endoscopy and biopsy should be performed at
intervals based on the stage of disease. If
excision is complete, one approach is for
follow-up endoscopy and multiple biopsies
every six months for a minimum of two years,
with endoscopy thereafter at three-year
intervals [72]. Adenomas identified in the
papilla of Vater should be removed
endoscopically if possible, and follow-up
examination should be carried out yearly [73].
Surgical consultation should be obtained for
those patients with high risk, according to the
Spigelman et al. [74] classification for
example, duodenal polyposis, or pancreatic
Given the rarity of pancreatic involvement in
FAP/GS aggressive surveillance protocols for
these patients is hard to justify and a
compromise should be struck. The authors of
this paper recommend incorporating
surveillance for pancreatic lesions along with
surveillance for upper gastrointestinal and
ampullary/periampullary neoplasia (Table 1).
Surveillance recommendations might be
stratified in FAP/GS patients according to
coexisting risk factors for pancreatic cancer.
Tailoring surveillance according to the presence

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or absence of additional risk factors such as
smoking, pancreatitis, diabetes and family
history of pancreatic cancer in such patients
might be appropriate. In patients with
additional risk factors we recommend a
single-session upper endoscopy and
endoscopic ultrasound. This would allow a
screening examination of the luminal
gastrointestinal tract together with a look at
the pancreas, biliary tract, gallbladder and a
significant part of the liver. The difference in
cost between using one modality of
surveillance (upper endoscopy) versus
standard upper endoscopy followed by EUS
at the same session is small in the United
States. The use of surveillance for pancreatic
along with ampullary/periampullary and
upper gastrointestinal neoplasia might alter
management decisions but more studies are
needed to study the efficacy and benefits of
such surveillance. The choice of EUS over
CT scans for surveillance of pancreatic and
biliary neoplasia would save the patient
frequent exposure to radiation and contrast if
CT was to be used repeatedly. In addition, the
use of EUS would allow for sampling of
suspicious abnormalities at the time of the
surveillance exam.
Received August 19
, 2007 - Accepted
October 25
, 2007
Keywords Adenomatous Polyposis Coli;
Gardner Syndrome; Pancreatic Diseases;
Pancreatic Neoplasms
Abbreviations APC: adenomatous polyposis
coli; FAP: familial adenomatous polyposis;
GS: Gardner syndrome
Acknowledgements The authors would like
to thank Thomas Giever, DO for his critical
reading of the manuscript
Conflict of interest The authors have no
potential conflicts of interest
Klaus Gottlieb
1314 S. Grand Boulevard #2141
Spokane, WA 99202
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Table 1. Recommended surveillance for upper GI, ampullary/periampullary and pancreatic lesions in familial
adenomatous polyposis (FAP).
FAP patients with one of the following risk factors:
- Family history of pancreatic cancer
- Smoking
- History of pancreatitis
- Diabetes
- History of surgery to the upper digestive tract
Upper endoscopy with both end-viewing and side-viewing
instruments and endoscopic ultrasound, if possible in a single
session, every 3-5 years starting at the time of considering
colectomy or early in the third decade of life, whichever is
FAP patients without any of the above risk factors: Upper endoscopy with both end-viewing and side-viewing
instruments with or without endoscopic ultrasound every 3-5
years starting at the time of considering colectomy or early in
the third decade of life whichever is earlier.

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