What is the Pancreas?

The pancreas is an elongated, tapered gland located behind the stomach. The widest part of the pancreas, called the head, is tucked in the curve of the first segment of the intestines, called the duodenum. The body of the pancreas extends slightly upward before ending in the tail, located near the spleen.

There are two primary functions of the pancreas:

  • the exocrine tissue in the pancreas releases digestive enzymes of protease, amylase and lipase, which help breakdown protein, starches and fats so they are more easily absorbed by the intestines; the exocrine tissue also releases bicarbonate, which neutralizes acid in the intestines
  • the endocrine tissue in the pancreas secretes hormones, including insulin, into the blood stream