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What is the pancreas?

The pancreas is part of the digestive system. It does two main things.

  • It makes pancreatic juices which contain substances called enzymes. These enzymes help to break down food so the body can absorb it. The pancreatic juices flow down a tube called the pancreatic duct, which runs the length of the pancreas and empties into the duodenum (the first part of the small intestines).
  • The pancreas also makes hormones, including insulin, which control sugar levels in the blood.

Both of these things can be affected if the pancreas isn’t working properly.

The pancreas is often described as having a head, body and tail. It is surrounded by several large and important organs and blood vessels.

  • The head of the pancreas is next to the duodenum.
  • The bile duct carries a fluid called bile from the liver. It passes through the head of the pancreas and empties into the duodenum. 
  • The blood vessels that carry blood to the liver, intestines, kidneys and lower part of the body are very close to the pancreas, and may touch it.

Diagram of the pancreas and surrounding organs

The pancreas and surrounding organs


Diagram of the pancreas and surrounding blood vesselsThe pancreas and surrounding blood vessels


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Published January 2018

Review date January 2020

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