What is the pancreas?

The pancreas is an organ about 6 inches long and shaped like a thin pear lying on its side. The wider end of the pancreas is called the head, the middle section is called the body, and the narrow end is called the tail.

The pancreas is found deep inside the body, behind the stomach and in front of the spine. It has two main jobs in the body.

Diagram - location of the pancreas

What does the pancreas do?

The pancreas has two main jobs in the body, making:

In this way, the pancreas helps the body use and store the energy it gets from food.

A tube called the pancreatic duct connects the pancreas to the first part of the small intestine, known as the duodenum. Digestive enzymes pass through this tube to help break down food. Another tube, called the common bile duct, passes through the head of the pancreas. This tube carries bile Рa substance that helps to digest fats Рfrom the liver and gall bladder to the small intestine. The bile duct may get blocked when a pancreatic tumour invades it. This causes jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin and dark urine).

The pancreas contains two types of glands: Exocrine glands – create the enzymes which help digest (break down) foods. Endocrine glands – create the hormones such as insulin and glucagon, which control blood sugars.

Detail diagram of the pancreas

Image Copyright Pancreatic Cancer Action – do not reproduce without permission

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Information Product No. PCA0011v1 | Published: 03/01/2014 | Last Updated: 29/05/2018 | Next Review Due: 03/01/2017