The word pancreas originally comes from the Greek word pankreas which means all flesh. It is a vital organ inside the body that in adults typically measures 7.8 inches long (about 20 cm) and weighs approximately .22 pounds (about 100 grams). Structurally, the pancreas is divided into three parts: head, body, and tail. The tail almost touches the spleen while the head lies closely to the duodenum. Generally, the pancreas is located at the center of the abdomen and is surrounded by other important structures like the spleen, intestines, stomach, and the left kidney.
As an endocrine gland, it contains almost a million islet cells called islets of Langerhans. There are four types of pancreatic cell that make up the islets of Langerhans: alpha cells that produce glucagon, beta cells that produce insulin, delta cells that secrete somatostatin, and PP cells that secrete pancreatic polypeptide. All of these hormones from the pancreatic cell mostly are secreted directly into the blood.
Insulin functions mostly as a transporter of glucose into the cells. This then would result in lowered blood-sugar levels. Glucagon performs its actions technically when blood sugar levels are very low. It generally converts stored proteins and fats into glucose, thus increasing blood sugar levels for cell consumption. Somatostatin, on the other hand, curbs enzyme production of the exocrine gland.
The pancreas also is considered an exocrine gland in that the pancreatic cell produces enzymes that reach the gastrointestinal tract by way of ducts. Most pancreatic cell which comprise the exocrine gland are called acinar cells. They produce the enzymes lipase, amylase, and protease which function primarily in breaking down the fats, proteins, and carbohydrates consumed during meals.
Inflammation of the pancreas often results in pancreatitis. This frequently is caused by alcohol intake, infections, gallstones, and direct trauma to the area. Sometimes the cause also is attributed to inherited genetic mutations. Symptoms might include abdominal pain ranging from mild to severe, and often pain can be felt radiating into the back. Severe cases can be devastating and life-threatening.
Pancreatic cell carcinoma generally is a progressive type of cancer when it occurs. It mostly affects people of the older generation between the ages of 60 and 80 years old. Inherited genetic mutations, smoking, alcohol consumption, and a diet of fatty foods largely are blamed for its development. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer often include weight loss, yellowing of the skin, and overall weakness of the body.