The Pancreas

The pancreas is a large gland found in your abdomen behind the stomach. A gland is an organ that makes fluids or chemicals the body needs. The pancreas is about 6 inches long.

Other organs found near the pancreas can be affected by pancreatic cancer. These include the liver, spleen, stomach, gallbladder, and small intestine. The duodenum is the first part of the small intestine. The jejunum is the middle part of the small intestine. The liver is located close to the pancreas, above the gallbladder.

The small intestine is wrapped along the wide end of the pancreas. The spleen is found at the tail end of the pancreas.

The pancreas has 3 parts:

  • Wide end called the head (includes neck and uncinate)
  • The middle part called the body
  • Narrow end called the tail

The pancreas does 2 things:

  • It makes hormones (insulin and glucagon) that control the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood. This helps your body use and store energy from food. Removing part of the pancreas might put you at risk for diabetes. If you have diabetes, it might make it worse.
  • It makes a powerful substance called pancreatic enzymes that helps digest food in your small intestine. Removing part of the pancreas can decrease the amount of these enzymes. This can cause oily diarrhea (watery stool), stools that float, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and weight loss.

What the pancreas does is important. The pancreas makes hormones, such as insulin. It also makes proteins, called enzymes, which help to digest food.

  • Endocrine cells of the pancreas make hormones. These are released directly into the bloodstream.
  • Exocrine cells release substances into a duct. Enzymes made by exocrine cells are released into the small ducts of the pancreas. Ducts are tiny tubes or vessels that fluids pass through. The small ducts connect to the main pancreatic duct that extends from the tail to the head of the pancreas.

The pancreas lies behind the stomach and across the spine. It is in close contact with the liver, gallbladder, spleen, and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). The liver removes waste from the blood and makes bile. Bile is a fluid that helps to digest food. The gallbladder stores bile from the liver. The common bile duct carries bile from the liver into the main pancreatic duct. From the main pancreatic duct, bile and enzymes empty into the duodenum.

The duodenum is the first part of the small intestine, which absorbs nutrients from the food you eat.

Depending on the size of the tumor and its location, surgery can be very difficult. Surgery will likely affect nearby organs, ducts, and tissues described above.