The pancreas /ˈpæŋkriəs/ is a glandular organ in the digestive system and endocrine system of vertebrates. In humans, it is located in the abdominal cavity behind the stomach. It is an endocrine gland producing several important hormones, including insulin, glucagon, somatostatin, and pancreatic polypeptide which circulate in the blood. The pancreas is also a digestive organ, secreting pancreatic juice containing digestive enzymes that assist digestion and absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. These enzymes help to further break down the carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids in the chyme. The pancreas is also known as mixed gland.
What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is a long flattened gland located deep in the belly (abdomen). Because the pancreas isn’t seen or felt in our day to day lives, most people don’t know as much about the pancreas as they do about other parts of their bodies. The pancreas is, however, a vital part of the digestive system and a critical controller of blood sugar levels.
Where is the pancreas?
The pancreas is located deep in the abdomen. Part of the pancreas is sandwiched between the stomach and the spine. The other part is nestled in the curve of the duodenum (first part of the small intestine). To visualize the position of the pancreas, try this: touch your right thumb and right “pinkie” fingers 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 your left. Your hand will be the approximate shape and at the approximate level of your pancreas.
Because of the deep location of the pancreas, tumors of the pancreas are rarely palpable (able to be felt by pressing on the abdomen). This explains why most symptoms of pancreatic cancer do not appear until the tumor has grown large enough to interfere with the function of the pancreas or other nearby organs such as the stomach, duodenum, liver, or gallbladder.