What is the Pancreas?
The pancreas is a gland, about six inches long, located in the abdomen. It is surrounded by the stomach, small intestine, liver, spleen and gallbladder. It is shaped like a flat pear. Most people don't know as much about the pancreas as they do about other parts of their bodies. In fact, this gland is an integral part of the digestive system that often goes unnoticed until problems occur. But if that happens, you will probably need all information about it, as much as you can get.
Where is the Pancreas?
The pancreas is located deep in the abdomen, sandwiched between the stomach and the spine. It lies partially behind the stomach. The other part is nestled in the curve of the duodenum (small intestine). To visualize the position of the pancreas, try this: Touch the thumb and "pinkie" finger of your right hand together, keeping the other three fingers together and straight. Then, place your hand in the center of your belly just below your lower ribs with your fingers pointing to the left. Your hand will be at the approximate level of your pancreas.
Because of the pancreas' deep location, tumors are rarely palpable (able to be felt by pressing on the abdomen.) It also explains why many symptoms of pancreatic cancer often do not appear until the tumor grows large enough to interfere with the function of nearby structures such as the stomach, duodenum, liver, or gallbladder.
Parts of Pancreas
The pancreas is made up of glandular tissue and a system of ducts. The main duct is the pancreatic duct which runs the length of the pancreas. It drains the pancreatic fluid from the gland and carries it to the duodenum. 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 process.
The main duct is about one-sixteenth of an inch in diameter and has many small side branches. The common bile duct runs from the gallbladder behind the head of the pancreas to the point where it joins the pancreatic duct and forms the ampulla of Vater (a widening of the duct just before it enters the duodenum).
Your doctor will probably refer to different parts of the pancreas when discussing your situation. The part of the pancreas that a tumor arises in will affect how it is treated. For descriptive purposes, there are two ways the pancreas is divided into parts: by parts of the overall shape and by the function of its cells.
The following parts of pancreas, based on the shape classification can be defined as follows:
· Uncinate process - The part of the gland that bends backwards and underneath the body of the pancreas. Two very important blood vessels, the superior mesenteric artery and vein cross in front of the uncinate process.
· Head - The widest part of the gland. It is found in the right part of abdomen, nestled in the curve of the duodenum which forms an impression in the side of the gland.
· Neck - The thin section between the head and the body of the gland.
· Body - The middle part of gland between the neck and the tail. The superior mesenteric blood vessels run behind this part of the gland.
· Tail - The thin tip of gland in the left part of abdomen in close proximity with the spleen.
There are two main types of tissue found in the pancreas: exocrine tissue and endocrine tissue. Most of the pancreas - about 95% - is exocrine tissue that produces pancreatic enzymes to aid digestion. A healthy pancreas makes about 2.2 pints (1 liter) of these enzymes every day.
The remainder of the pancreas is composed of hundreds of thousands of endocrine cells known as islets of Langerhans. These grape-like cell clusters produce important hormones that regulate pancreatic secretions and control blood sugar.
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