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The pancreas is a thin, 15 cm long organ that lies behind the stomach and under the liver.

The pancreas is a thin, 15 cm long organ that lies behind the stomach and under the liver.
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Pancreas

Your pancreas is a thin, 15 cm long organ that lies behind your stomach and under your liver. It is a vital organ with two crucial roles – helping your body to digest food and making hormones that control your blood sugar levels.

What does my pancreas do?

Most of the cells in your pancreas make and release digestive enzymes into your duodenum, which is the start of your small intestine. In the duodenum, the digestive enzymes break down partly digested food from the stomach.

A very small part of your pancreas makes hormones that help control your blood sugar levels. This part has alpha cells (which make glucagon) and beta cells (which make insulin). Glucagon and insulin work together to keep your blood glucose at the right level.

Common pancreas diseases

Common diseases that can affect the pancreas include:

  • pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas, which can be caused by gall bladder disease and alcoholism
  • diabetes – destruction or loss of beta cells can mean the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin for blood sugar control
  • cystic fibrosis – is associated with sticky mucus, and this can prevent digestive enzymes being released into the duodenum
  • pancreatic cancer – cancer of the pancreas.

Depending on the pancreatic disease, symptoms can include:

To diagnose pancreatic diseases, your doctor may arrange for stool tests, blood tests, ERCP, ultrasound or CT scans.

How can I look after my pancreas?

Diet and lifestyle are important for maintaining a healthy pancreas, for example:

  • drinking little or no alcohol can reduce your risk of pancreatitis and diabetes
  • if you smoke, quitting can reduce your risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

If you are worried that you may have pancreas problems, check your symptoms with healthdirect's Symptom Checker and see your doctor.

Last reviewed: June 2016

Need more information?

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Pancreas and insulin - myDr.com.au

Your pancreas has 2 functions: producing digestive enzymes; and producing the hormones insulin and glucagon to regulate blood sugar.

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Diseases of the pancreas - Lab Tests Online AU

The pancreas is a narrow, flat organ about 15 cm long, with a head, middle and tail section. It is located below the liver, between the stomach and the spine, and its head section connects to the duodenum (first part of the small intestine). Inside the pancreas, small ducts (tubes) feed fluids produced by the pancreas into the pancreatic duct. This larger duct carries the fluids down the length of the pancreas, from the tail to the head, and into the duodenum. The common bile duct also runs through the head section of the pancreas, carrying bile from the liver and gall bladder into the small intestine.

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Pancreatic cancer - Lab Tests Online AU

For an explanation of the pancreas and the words exocrine and endocrine, please see the description under "What is the pancreas?" in Pancreatic diseases.

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Pancreatic cancer fact sheet

Pancreatic cancer occurs when abnormal cells within the pancreas grow in an uncontrolled way

Read more on Cancer Australia website

CA 19-9 - Lab Tests Online AU

CA 19-9 is used to help tell the difference between cancer of the pancreas or bile ducts and other conditions; CA 19-9 is used to monitor response to pancreatic cancer treatment and to watch for recurrence.

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Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) - myDr.com.au

ERCP is an investigation used to view the gallbladder, bile ducts, pancreas and pancreatic duct.

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Pancreatitis - Lab Tests Online AU

Pancreatitis can be an acute or chronic inflammation of the pancreas. Acute attacks often are characterised by severe abdominal pain that radiates from the upper stomach through to the back and can cause effects ranging from mild pancreas swelling to life-threatening organ failure. Chronicpancreatitis is a progressive condition that may involve a series of acute attacks, causing intermittent or constant pain as it permanently damages the pancreas.

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Pancreatitis - myDr.com.au

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The main symptom is pain in the upper abdomen that feels as if it goes through to your back.

Read more on myDr website

Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, which can either be acute (sudden and severe) or chronic (ongoing). The pancreas is a gland that secretes both digestive enzymes and important hormones. Heavy alcohol consumption is one of the most common causes of chronic pancreatitis, followed by gallstones.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

C-peptide - Lab Tests Online AU

C-peptide is used to monitor insulin production by the beta cells in the pancreas and to help determine the cause of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar)

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

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