The pancreas is a glandular organ in the abdominal cavity that secretes hormones and digestive enzymes.

My textbook, Human Anatomy and Physiology (5th ed) cites, it is an elongated, somewhat flattened organ, attached to the small intestine by means of a duct.  The duct transports digestive juices to the intestines.

Anatomical LocationAnatomical Location


The pancreas has a dual function,

  1. secretes digestive juices, and
  2. releases hormones.   

The portion that releases hormones consists of specialized cells called Islets of Langerhans.  These specialized cells secrete insulin, glucagon, and somatostatin.

In addition, the pancreas participates in homeostasis – by regulating the concentration of glucose in the blood.  If blood sugar increases following a meal, insulin is released into the blood which causes sugar to move from the blood into various body cells and to be stored in the liver and muscles.  

  • The release of insulin is stopped when blood sugar concentration reaches the normal set point.  
  • Conversely, if the pancreas detects that blood glucose is too low, it releases glucagon which causes sugar to be released from storage into the blood.


Insulin –  a protein that stimulates the liver to form glycogen from glucose and to inhibit the conversion of noncarbohydrates into glucose.  Insulin transports glucose into the cells that contain insulin receptors. 

Glucagon – a protein that acts on the liver to convert glycogen into glucose and to convert noncarbohydrates (such as amino acids) into glucose.  Glucagon and insulin produce the opposite effects. 

Somatostatin – regulates carbohydrates by inhibiting glucagon secretion. 


According to Pathophysiology: The Biologic Basis for Disease in Adults and Children  (6th ed), disorders of the pancreas include:

Diabetes - A syndrome characterized by chronic hyperglycemia and other metabolic disturbances involving fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.  

  • Type I – it is theorized that autoimmune factors trigger the destruction of pancreatic insulin-secreting beta cells. Environmental elements may play a key role in triggering autoimmune factors, including certain viruses.
  • Type II -  An environmental-genetic interaction appears to lead to beta cell dysfunction. Risk factors include obesity, age, hypertension, physical inactivity, and family history.     

Acute Pancreatitis – alcoholism and biliary tract obstruction are commonly associated.  However, the exact pathophysiology is unknown.  It is theorized that injury or a disruption in acinar cells permits toxic pancreatic enzymes to leak into pancreatic tissue causing inflammation.  

Mid-abdominal or epigastric pain is the main symptom. Pain may radiate to the back. 

Chronic Pancreatitis – acute inflammation - caused most commonly by alcohol abuse.  Contributing factors include obstruction by gallstones, smoking, and obesity.  Continuous or occasional abdominal pain, diabetes, and weight loss accompany the disease’s progression.  Chronic pancreatitis is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. 

Pancreatic Cancer - now ranked #4 among men as the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.  Risk increases with age.  Mortality rate is 95% within 12 months.

Pancreatic cancer is a disease of inherity and mutation in cancer-related genes. Smoking, diabetes, and alcoholism are known risk factors.    

Patients are usually asymptomatic and may report only vague back pain as the disease progresses.  Diagnosis usually occurs in the late stages.  Consequently, prognosis is poor.   Most patients die from hepatic failure, malnutrition, or systemic diseases (infection). 

Pancreatic cancer develops when a cell in the pancreas acquires damage to its DNA that causes it to behave and multiply abnormally. A single cancer cell grows and divides rapidly, becoming a tumor that does not respect normal boundaries in the body. Eventually, cells from the tumor travel elsewhere in the body (metastasize) through the blood or lymphatic system.   Read more at WebMD

The Pancreas

Is there a connection between our lifestyle and the increasing incidence of pancreatic cancer?

According to many sources, including the World Health Organization and Medical News Today , emerging evidence is pointing to processed and red meat as major contributors.

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by Robin D. George

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