What is Pancreas?
The pancreas is a thin, lumpy gland that lies between your stomach and your spine. It is normally about six inches long and is shaped something like a thin pear, the organ is wide at one end and narrow at the other end and has three sections. The wider right end is called the head, the midsection is the body, and the narrow left end is the tail. It is joined by a duct (the ‘pancreatic duct’) to the first part of the small bowel (the duodenum) into a common opening with the bile duct called the ampulla.
The pancreas plays two major roles in your body’s digestive system.
- It produces insulin, which controls the amount of sugar in your blood. If the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, you will develop diabetes.
- Other parts of the pancreas produce substances called enzymes, which help you to digest food. These enzymes pass from the pancreas into your duodenum through the pancreatic duct. If the release of these enzymes is blocked for any reason, the body cannot absorb food completely and may result in diarrhoea and weight loss.
What is cancer of pancreas?
Cancer of the pancreas develops when healthy cells in the pancreas become abnormal and grow too quickly. The abnormal cells form a mass in the pancreas called a tumor. When a tumor has the ability to spread to other parts of the body, it is called malignant (cancer).
The most common malignant tumors of the pancreas, known as adenocarcinoma, come from cells involved in the production of enzymes for digestion and accounts for 95 percent of all pancreatic cancers. Sometimes mass develops in the specialised cells of pancreas called islet cells.
Islet cell carcinoma involves cells that can secrete a variety of hormones. These tumors can be functional and make abnormally high amounts of hormones or can be non-functional and not produce any hormones. Most islet cell tumors are malignant, but some are benign such as insulin-producing islet cell tumors.
Which part of the pancreas is affected with cancer?
Cancer can affect any part of the pancreas, the head, body or the tail but is more common in the wide right end or commonly called as the head of pancreas. Sometimes a common label of “periampullary cancer” is used indicating that the location of cancer can be either in the head of pancreas, at the common opening called ampulla, at the lower end of the bile duct or at the intestine where the pancreatic duct opens.