Image Caption : Our bodies and brains run on glucose. The carbohydrates we eat are broken down in the small intestine into glucose and circulated throughout the body. The body's ability to use glucose as its main source of energy depends on the hormone insulin, produced by the pancreas.

The pancreas, located behind the stomach, that secretes digestive enzymes into the duodenum of the small intestine, which then combine with bile, produced in the liver. The majority of cells in the pancreas (some 98%) are cells arranged in grapelike clusters that produce these important enzymes. The other 2% of pancreatic cells are those that produce insulin and other hormones that govern sugar metabolism.


Illustration of the pancreas

The pancreas is a long, soft organ that lies transversely along the posterior abdominal wall, posterior to the stomach, and extends from the region of the duodenum to the spleen. This gland has an exocrine portion that secretes digestive enzymes that are carried through a duct to the duodenum. The endocrine portion consists of the pancreatic islets, which secrete glucagons and insulin.

Alpha cells in the pancreatic islets secrete the hormone glucagons in response to a low concentration of glucose in the blood. Beta cells in the pancreatic islets secrete the hormone insulin in response to a high concentration of glucose in the blood.



The pancreas has three main sections:

  • Head: area of pancreas to right of left border of superior mesenteric vein.
  • Body: area of pancreas between left border of superior mesenteric vein and left border of aorta.
  • Tail: area of pancreas between left border of aorta and hilum of spleen.

The most common site of primaries is the head of the pancreas. The pancreas has two functional components: endocrine, to produce insulin and other hormones, and exocrine, to produce pancreatic juices for digestion. The pancreas is in direct contact with the stomach, duodenum, spleen, and major vessels of the abdomen.

Illustraiton of the pancreas and the duodenum

  1. Head of pancreas
  2. Uncinate process
  3. Pancreatic notch
  4. Body of pancreas
  5. Anterior surface
  6. Inferior surface
  7. Superior margin
  8. Anterior margin
  9. Inferior margin
  10. Omental tuber
  11. Tail of pancreas
  12. Duodenum

Key words

  • Duct of Wirsung: pancreatic duct opening into duodenum.
  • Insulin: hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates carbohydrate metabolism.

National Cancer Institute / NIH

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.

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