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Pancreas: A fish-shaped spongy grayish-pink organ about 6 inches (15 cm) long that stretches across the back of the abdomen, behind the stomach. The head of the pancreas is on the right side of the abdomen and is connected to the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine). The narrow end of the pancreas, called the tail, extends to the left side of the body.
The pancreas makes pancreatic juices and hormones, including insulin. The pancreatic juices are enzymes that help digest food in the small intestine. Insulin controls the amount of sugar in the blood.
As pancreatic juices are made, they flow into the main pancreatic duct. This duct joins the common bile duct, which connects the pancreas to the liver and the gallbladder. The common bile duct, which carries bile (a fluid that helps digest fat), connects to the small intestine near the stomach.
The pancreas is thus a compound gland. It is "compound" in the sense that it is composed of both exocrine and endocrine tissues. The exocrine function of the pancreas involves the synthesis and secretion of pancreatic juices. The endocrine function resides in the million or so cellular islands (the islets of Langerhans) embedded between the exocrine units of the pancreas. Beta cells of the islands secrete insulin, which helps control carbohydrate metabolism. Alpha cells of the islets secrete glucagon that counters the action of insulin.
Text: MedicineNet, Inc.
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