The pancreas lies transversely along the posterior abdominal wall, posterior to the stomach, and extends from the region of the duodenum to the spleen.
The word pancreas is from the Greek πᾶν (pân, “all”) & κρέας (kréas, “flesh”).
Parts of pancreas
Anatomically, the pancreas is divided into a head, neck, body, and tail. The pancreas stretches from the inner curvature of the duodenum, where the head surrounds two blood vessels: the superior mesenteric artery, and vein.
The body and neck of the pancreas drain into the splenic vein, which sits behind the pancreas and the head drains into, and wraps around, the superior mesenteric and portal veins, via the pancreaticoduodenal veins.
The lymphatic vessels of the body and tail drain into splenic lymph nodes, and eventually into lymph nodes that lie in front of the aorta, between the coeliac and superior mesenteric arteries. The lymphatic vessels of the head and neck drain into intermediate lymphatic vessels around the pancreaticoduodenal, mesenteric and hepatic arteries, and from there into the lymph nodes that lie in front of the aorta.
Inflammation of the pancreas is known as pancreatitis, with common causes including chronic alcohol use and gallstones. Because of its role in the regulation of blood sugar, the pancreas is also a key organ in diabetes mellitus. Pancreatic cancer can arise following chronic pancreatitis or due to other reasons, and carries a very poor prognosis, as it is often identified when it has spread to other areas of the body.
Pancreas is one of very few organs in the body that has both endocrine and exocrine functions.
- The alpha cells in the pancreatic islets secrete the hormone glucagon in response to a low concentration of glucose in the blood.
- Beta cells in the pancreatic islets, called islets of Langerhans, secrete the hormone insulin in response to a high concentration of glucose in the blood.