Pancreatic Cancer: Where is the Pancreas Located in the Body?
Pancreatic cancer is likely to develop when the cells present in the pancreas multiply uncontrollably forming a cell mass. Do you want to know what is Pancreas? Do you want to know its functions? Do you want to know how it helps your body? Do you want to know where it is located?
What is Pancreas?
Pancreas is one of the most important organs of human body. It’s a long, flattened gland.
It’s shaped like a flat pear.
It’s almost 6 inches long.
It’s located behind the stomach and ahead of Spine.
It’s surrounded by small intestine, spleen, liver and gall bladder.
The head of Pancreas/ big, broad portion is on the right of your body.
The tail of Pancreas/ the narrow end is on your left.
Middle sections of Pancreas are referred as neck and body.
Part of Pancreas called Uncinate process bends backwards and under the head of the pancreas.
The superior mesenteric artery and the superior mesenteric vein are two important blood vessels. They cross behind the neck of the pancreas and in front of the uncinate process.
A tube called Pancreatic duct connects Pancreas to Duodenum. Small intestine is divided into several sections, Duodenum is one of them.
Functions of Pancreas:
Pancreas has two functions: Endocrine and Exocrine
- Endocrine function:
Pancreas secretes two hormones: Insulin and Glucagon. While Beta cells secrete Insulin, Alpha cells Glucagon.
Hormones are substances which are meant to perform or monitor specific functions in your body. They are produced at a particular part of your body and then carried via blood elsewhere, wherein they act.
Both Insulin and Glucagon are responsible for controlling your blood sugar levels. Insulin prevents your blood sugar from rising above normal. On the other hand, Glucagon prevents your blood sugar levels from going below normal.
When you eat, food is digested and is converted to sugar/ glucose. Your body uses the same sugar/ glucose for its daily activities.
Body has a proper mechanism for storage of sugar as well. The sugar that is needed is made available by the liver in simplest form i.e., glucose, a part of which makes its way to the bloodstream while one that is not needed is stored in the form of glycogen for meeting the body’s future energy demands. However there is a storage limit for glycogen storage in the body. The storage limit can vary from 100 g of glucose in the form of glycogen in liver to approximately 500 g of glycogen in muscles. Due to the limited area available for storage, any carbohydrates that exceed the capacity for storage are converted to fat and are stored in the same form.
Insulin makes way for sugar to be absorbed by your body.
If there’s an insufficient Insulin production by your body, your body will not be able to utilize the available sugar fully. This results in an increased sugar in your blood. This condition is called as Diabetes.
Here your body starves. Though sugar is available in your blood, it’s as good as not available as it cannot be utilized.
If you have Diabetes, you experience lack of energy/ tiredness which is seen in those who starve.
This is an unhealthy condition which makes you prone to many diseases such as heart diseases, nerve diseases, eye and Kidney diseases. This condition needs an immediate attention and judicious follow up!
Glucagon is a hormone that raises your blood sugar level. It is released when your body senses low glucose levels.
Glucagon acts on Liver which then releases stored glucose.
It prevents glucose levels from reaching below dangerous levels. When glucose drops below normal, you feel dizzy and disoriented.
2. Exocrine function:
Pancreas plays a vital role in digestion. It secretes the following enzymes:
- Lipase: Digests fat
- Amylase: Digests Carbohydrates
- Trypsin and Chymotrypsin: Digests proteins
When food enters your stomach, Pancreas produces Pancreatic enzymes mentioned above. Pancreas releases enzymes into small ducts which lead to the Pancreatic duct.
Bile duct originates from liver and gall bladder. Bile is a juice that aids digestion. It’s produced in Liver and Gall bladder.
Pancreatic duct reaches Bile duct.
They reach a portion of small intestine called Duodenum at a point called ampulla of Vater.
In duodenum, bile and enzymes together help your body digest fats, proteins and carbohydrates.
One of the causes of pancreatic cancer is pancreatitis which is characterized by acute pancreatic inflammation. Inflammation results either due to the blockage by a tumor or a gallstone that further results in accumulation of pancreatic juices in the organ and thereby damaging it. Diabetes can act both as a risk factor or a symptom of cancer in pancreas. It is seen that people who have diabetes that is long standing are more susceptible to pancreatic cancer than people who don’t. Studies also suggest that old aged people who develop diabetes are likely to develop pancreatic cancer since it acts as a symptom for the disease. Fluctuations in blood sugar levels of a diabetic patient who once had controlled diabetes can also be treated as a sign of developing cancer in the pancreas. There are so many factors associated with the pancreas some of which are listed below:
- Smoking and high intake of Alcohol.
- Chronic pancreatitis, liver problems, Diabetes as well as stomach infections also contribute to the cancer in pancreas.
- It is also seen that some people inherit gene changes from their parents that increases their chances of developing pancreatic cancer. It is also observed that men are more prone to pancreatic cancer than women. It can be attributed to more tobacco use in men. Other reasons are race, family history etc.
- Liver Problems: One of the problems associated with liver that contributes in the development of pancreatic cancer is Liver Cirrhosis which can be characterized by a scarring of the liver.
Symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer:
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Loss of appetite and vomiting
- Weight and signs of weakness
- Pale grey stool
- Steatorrhea (excessive fat in stool).
Pancreatic cancer is difficult to get treated due to poor prognosis. The only treatment possible is surgery or radiation therapy or combination of various treatments.