What is the Pancreas?
pancreas is a gland, about six inches long, located in the abdomen. It
is shaped like a flat pear and is surrounded by the stomach, small intestine,
liver, spleen and gallbladder. The wide end of the pancreas on the right
side of the body is called the head. The middle sections are the neck
and body. The thin end of the pancreas on the left side of the body is
called the tail. The uncinate process is the part of the gland that bends
backwards and underneath the head of the pancreas. Two very important
blood vessels, the superior mesenteric artery and superior mesenteric
vein, cross behind the neck of the pancreas and in front of the uncinate
The pancreas is both an exocrine gland and endocrine gland. Exocrine cells
of the pancreas produce enzymes that help with digestion. When food enters
the stomach, exocrine cells release the pancreatic enzymes into a system
of small ducts that lead to the main pancreatic duct. The pancreatic duct
runs the length of the pancreas and carries pancreatic enzymes and other
secretions, collectively called pancreatic juice. The common bile duct
runs from the gallbladder behind the head of the pancreas and carries
bile. These two ducts join and empty into the first portion of the small
intestine called the duodenum. The point where these two ducts connect
with the duodenum is called the ampulla of Vater. When the enzymes enter
the duodenum, they meet the food emptied by the stomach and aid in the
digestion of fats, carbohydrates and proteins.
|The endocrine function of the pancreas involves the production of hormones.
Hormones are substances made in one part of the body that circulate in
the bloodstream to influence a different part of the body. The two main
pancreatic hormones are insulin and glucagon. Islet cells are endocrine
cells within the pancreas that produce and secrete insulin and glucagon
into the bloodstream. Insulin lowers blood sugar levels while glucagon
raises blood sugar levels. Together, these two main hormones work to maintain
the proper level of sugar in the blood.
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network would like to thank Kathleen Wagner and support from the Hamill Foundation and the Pickelner Fund for Pancreatic Cancer Research at MD Anderson Cancer Center for the illustrations provided on this page.
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