What Is Pancreatic Cancer?

What Is Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic cancer begins when cells in the pancreas start to grow uncontrollably. The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach. It is shaped a bit like a fish with a wide head, a tapering body, and a narrow, pointed tail. In adults it is about 6 inches long but less than 2 inches wide. The head of the pancreas is on the right side of the abdomen (belly), behind where the stomach meets the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). The body of the pancreas is behind the stomach, and the tail of the pancreas is on the left side of the abdomen next to the spleen.

The pancreas has 2 main types of cells:

  • Exocrine cells:Most of the cells in the pancreas form the exocrine glands and ducts. The exocrine glands make pancreatic enzymes that are released into the intestines to help you digest foods (especially fats). The enzymes are first released into tiny tubes called ducts. These merge to form larger ducts, which empty into the pancreatic duct. The pancreatic duct merges with the common bile duct (the duct that carries bile from the liver), and empties into the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) at the ampulla of Vater.
  • Endocrine cells:Endocrine cells make up a much smaller percentage of the cells in the pancreas. These cells are in small clusters called islets (or islets of Langerhans). The islets make important hormones like insulin and glucagon (which help control blood sugar levels), and release them directly into the blood.