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What are the pancreas and what do they do?


Updated June 11, 2014

Question: What are the pancreas and what do they do?
Answer: In order to understand pancreatic cancer better, its helps to know the anatomy and physiology of the pancreas - basically what they are and what they do for our body.

The pancreas is a gland about 6 inches long that is shaped like a thin pear lying on its side. The wider end of the pancreas is called the head, the middle section is called the body, and the narrow end is called the tail. The pancreas lies behind the stomach and in front of the spine.

The pancreas has two main jobs in the body:

  • To produce juices that help digest (break down) food.

  • To produce hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, that help control blood sugar levels. Both of these hormones help the body use and store the energy it gets from food.

  • The digestive juices are produced by exocrine pancreas cells and the hormones are produced by endocrine pancreas cells. About 95% of pancreatic cancers begin in exocrine cells.

Adapted from the National Cancer Insitiute
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  6. What Are the Pancreas and What Do They Do?

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