What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is a small organ located below the stomach and is connected with the small intestine. It is a unique organ in that it can produce both enzymes that aid in digestion, as well as hormones that help with converting sugar into energy.
Because of its location inside the body, diagnosing illnesses of the pancreas can sometimes be difficult. This is because it’s hard to feel it since it’s so deep inside the body.
In the case of tumors or pancreatic cancer, people only notice it when the tumors have grown large enough to affect other organs.
What does the pancreas do?
The pancreas serves two main functions:
- First would be to release enzymes that can help with digestion. These enzymes are produced by exocrine cells, which are then sent out through the pancreatic ducts into the small intestine. There, the enzymes aid the intestine in digesting food.
- The second function of the pancreas is a bit different. It can also produce hormones, which are generated by the endocrine cells. These hormones include insulin and glucagon, which are both very important in keeping healthy levels of sugar in the blood.
Despite being important in digestion and managing blood sugar, it’s possible for a person to live without their pancreas. In the case of pancreatic cancer or chronic pancreatitis, the pancreas can sometimes be taken out completely in order to treat cancer.
However, living without the pancreas can be difficult, as the patient would need constant insulin shots to manage blood sugar levels, as well as digestive enzymes to aid in digestion. Even then, the life expectancy for a person without it is around 7 years. It’s even less for people who have had pancreatic cancer.