The pancreas is located deep in the abdomen and is a gland flat and oblong in shape. Many people do not know very much about the pancreas, especially compared to their knowledge of other parts of the body. This gland is in fact an important part of the digestive system that often goes unnoticed until a problem arises. Pancreatic cancer is a major concern for many people, therefore more information might be wanted.
The pancreas is sandwiched between the stomach and the spine, located deep in the abdomen. It is partially located behind the stomach. The rest of the pancreas is nestled in the curve of the small intestines, also known as the duodenum. The best way to visualize the location of the pancreas is to do the following: With your right hand, touch the “pinkie” finger to the thumb, keeping the other three fingers straight. Now place your hand, with the fingers facing left, in the center of your abdomen right below the lower ribs. This is approximately the level of your pancreas.
Due to the deep location of the pancreas, tumors are usually not palpable, which means that they can rarely be felt by pressing on the abdomen. This deep location also explains why pancreatic cancer symptoms often do not appear until the tumor growth is large enough to interfere with the functioning of nearby structures like the gallbladder, liver, duodenum, or stomach.
Hormonal and Digestive Functions of the Pancreas:
• The exocrine gland in the pancreas secretes enzymes that help in the break down of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and acids in the duodenum. As these enzymes travel down the pancreatic duct into the bile duct they are in an inactive form. They are activated when they enter the duodenum. This same exocrine tissue also secretes a bicarbonate that neutralizes stomach acid in the first section of the small intestine, the duodenum.
• The endocrine gland in the pancreas secretes the hormones glucagon and insulin, both of which regulate glucose levels in the blood, and somatostatin, a hormone which regulates the release of the other two hormones.