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Illu pancrease.jpg
Illu pancreas duodenum.jpg
1: Head of pancreas
2: Uncinate process of pancreas
3: Pancreatic notch
4: Body of pancreas
5: Anterior surface of pancreas
6: Inferior surface of pancreas
7: Superior margin of pancreas
8: Anterior margin of pancreas
9: Inferior margin of pancreas
10: Omental tuber
11: Tail of pancreas
12: Duodenum
Gray's subject #251 1199
Artery inferior pancreaticoduodenal artery, superior pancreaticoduodenal artery
Vein pancreaticoduodenal veins, pancreatic veins
Nerve pancreatic plexus, celiac ganglia, vagus[1]
Precursor pancreatic buds
MeSH Pancreas
Dorlands/Elsevier p_02/

The pancreas is a gland organ in the digestive and endocrine systems of vertebrates[2]. It is both exocrine (secreting pancreatic juice containing digestive enzymes) and endocrine (producing several important hormones, including insulin, glucagon, and somatostatin).


In humans, the pancreas is a 15-25 cm (6-10 inch) elongated organ in the abdomen. It weighs between 65 and 75 g. One of the organs behind the abdominal cavity, it is located posterior to the stomach and in close association with the duodenum.

It is often described as having four regions: a head, neck, body and tail.

The pancreatic duct (also called the duct of Wirsung[3]) runs the length of the pancreas and empties into the second part of the duodenum at the ampulla of Vater. The common bile duct usually joins the pancreatic duct at or near this point. Many people also have a small accessory duct, the duct of Santorini, which extends from the main duct more upstream (towards the tail) to the duodenum, joining it more proximal than the ampulla of Vater.[3]

Blood supply

The pancreas is supplied arterially by the Pancreaticoduodenal arteries[4] and the splenic artery:

Venous drainage is via the pancreaticoduodenal veins which end up in the portal vein. The splenic vein passes posterior to the pancreas but is said to not drain the pancreas itself. The portal vein is formed by the union of the superior mesenteric vein and splenic vein posterior to the neck of the pancreas. In some people (some books say 40% of people), the inferior mesenteric vein also joins with the splenic vein behind the pancreas (in others it simply joins with the superior mesenteric vein instead).


The pancreas is innervated by the pancreatic plexus; a subdivision of the celiac plexus that accompanies pancreatic arteries.......


Under a microscope, when properly stained, it is easy to distinguish two different tissue types in the pancreas.[5] These regions correspond to the main pancreatic functions:

Appearance Region Function
light staining circles (islets of Langerhans) endocrine pancreas secretes hormones that regulate blood glucose levels
darker surrounding tissue exocrine pancreas produces enzymes that break down digestible foods


There are four main types of cells in the islets of Langerhans. They are relatively difficult to distinguish using standard staining techniques, but they can be classified by their secretion:

Name of cells Endocrine product % of islet cells Representative function
beta cells Insulin and Amylin 50-80% lower blood sugar
alpha cells Glucagon 15-20% raise blood sugar
delta cells Somatostatin 3-10% inhibit endocrine pancreas
PP cells Pancreatic polypeptide 1% inhibit exocrine pancreas

The islets are a compact collection of endocrine cells arranged in clusters and cords and are crisscrossed by a dense network of capillaries. The capillaries of the islets are lined by layers of endocrine cells in direct contact with vessels, and most endocrine cells are in direct contact with blood vessels, by either cytoplasmic processes or by direct apposition. According to the volume The Body, by Alan E. Nourse, in the Time-Life Science Library Series, the islets are "busily manufacturing their hormone and generally disregarding the pancreatic cells all around them, as though they were located in some completely different part of the body." (op. cit., p. 171.)


There are two main types of exocrine pancreatic cells, responsible for two main classes of secretions:

Name of cells Exocrine secretion Primary signal
Centroacinar cells bicarbonate ions Secretin
Basophilic cells digestive enzymes

(pancreatic amylase, Pancreatic lipase,

trypsinogen, chymotrypsinogen, etc.)


Diseases of the pancreas

Due to the importance of its enzyme contents, injury to the pancreas is potentially very dangerous. A puncture of the pancreas generally requires prompt and experienced medical intervention.

Diseases associated with the pancreas include:

Diabetes mellitus

Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder characterized by hyperglycemia. All three forms of the disease are due to the inability of the beta cells of the pancreas to produce sufficient insulin.

Researchers at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children injected capsaicin into NOD mice (Non-obese diabetic mice, a strain that is genetically predisposed to develop the equivalent of diabetes mellitus type 1) to kill the pancreatic sensory nerves. This treatment reduced the development of diabetes mellitus in these mice by 80%, suggesting a link between neuropeptides and the development of diabetes. When the researchers injected the pancreas of the diabetic mice with sensory neuropeptide (sP), they were cured of the diabetes for as long as 4 months. Also, insulin resistance (characteristic of diabetes mellitus type 2) was reduced.

Benign tumours

Like any other organ, the pancreas is susceptible to the growth of benign tumors. Benign tumors do not invade neighboring tissues, do not cause metastases, and usually do not return after surgical removal.

Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is a malignant tumour within the pancreatic gland. Its prognosis is generally regarded as poor. The different types of pancreatic cancers include:

Cystic fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis, also known as mucoviscidosis, is a hereditary disease that affects the entire body, causing progressive disability and early death. There is no cure for cystic fibrosis, and most affected individuals die young from lung failure. Cystic fibrosis is caused by a mutation in a gene called the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR). The product of this gene helps create sweat, digestive juices, and mucus. Although most people without CF have two working copies of the CFTR gene, only one is needed to prevent cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis develops when neither gene works normally. Therefore, it is considered an autosomal recessive disease. The name cystic fibrosis refers to the characteristic 'fibrosis' (tissue scarring) and cyst formation within the pancreas. Cystic fibrosis causes irreversible damage to the pancreas, which often results in painful inflammation (pancreatitis).

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is the inability to properly digest food due to a lack of digestive enzymes made by the pancreas. EPI is found in humans afflicted with cystic fibrosis. It is caused by a progressive loss of the pancreatic cells that make digestive enzymes. Chronic pancreatitis is the most common cause of EPI in humans. Loss of digestive enzymes leads to maldigestion and malabsorption of nutrients.

Hemosuccus pancreaticus

Hemosuccus pancreaticus, also known as pseudohematobilia or Wirsungorrhage, is a rare cause of hemorrhage in the gastrointestinal tract. It is caused by a bleeding source in the pancreas, pancreatic duct, or structures adjacent to the pancreas, such as the splenic artery, that bleed into the pancreatic duct. Patients with hemosuccus may develop symptoms of gastrointestinal hemorrhage, such as blood in the stools, maroon stools, or melena. They may also develop abdominal pain. Hemosuccus pancreaticus is associated with pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer and aneurysms of the splenic artery. Angiography may be used to treat hemosuccus pancreaticus, where the celiac axis is injected to determine the blood vessel that is bleeding, because embolization of the end vessel may terminate the hemorrhage. Alternatively, a distal pancreatectomy may be required to stop the hemorrhage.


Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. There are two forms of pancreatitis, which are different in causes and symptoms, and require different treatment:

Pancreatic pseudocyst

A pancreatic pseudocyst is a circumscribed collection of fluid rich in amylase and other pancreatic enzymes, blood and necrotic tissue, typically located in the lesser sac.


The pancreas was first identified by Herophilus (335-280 BC), a Greek anatomist and surgeon. Only a few hundred years later, Ruphos, another Greek anatomist, gave the pancreas its name. The term "pancreas" is derived from the Greek pan, "all", and kreas, "flesh", probably referring to the organ's homogeneous appearance.[6]

Pancreas as a food

Pancreases (specifically calf and lamb pancreases) are used in some meals often going by the name stomach sweetbreads.[2]

Additional images


  1. Essentials of Human Physiology by Thomas M. Nosek. Section 6/6ch2/s6ch2_30.
  2. 2.0 2.1 New Standard Encyclopedia, 1988. Volume P Page 68
  3. 3.0 3.1 Cutler, Anne G., et al., eds. Stedman's Medical Dictionary. Baltimore: The William and Wilkins Company, 1976 ed.
  4. Norman/Georgetown pancreas
  5. Histology image: 10404loa – Histology Learning System at Boston University
  6. Harper, Douglas. "Pancreas". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved April 4, 2007.

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