The pancreas

The pancreas is part of the digestive system. It has two main roles. It makes:

  • pancreatic juices – to help digest food for the body to use
  • insulin – to help keep sugar levels in the blood stable.

Position of the pancreas
Position of the pancreas

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The pancreas is in the upper part of the tummy (abdomen) just behind the stomach and in front of the spine. It is level with the V-shape where the ribs meet at the front of the body. It is about 15cm (6in) long and is shaped like a tadpole. The three main parts are:

  • the head of the pancreas – the large rounded section next to the first part of the small bowel (the duodenum)
  • the body of the pancreas – the middle part
  • the tail of the pancreas – the narrow part on your left side.

Pancreatic juices travel through small tubes (ducts) in the pancreas into a larger duct called the pancreatic duct. This joins with the common bile duct, which carries bile from the liver and gall bladder. They join up at the opening into the small bowel (duodenum). This is called the ampulla of Vater. The pancreatic juices and bile then flow into the duodenum where they help to digest food.

Back to Understanding pancreatic cancer

Types of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancers can be described by where they are found in the pancreas or the type of cells they start from.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer may not cause symptoms for a long time. Common symptoms are pain or discomfort, jaundice and weight loss.

What is cancer?

There are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, each with its own name and treatment.