Pancreatic rare tumours
Introduction to the pancreas
The pancreas is a long flattened gland localised in the abdomen, between the stomach and the spine. It is surrounded by other organs including the small intestine, liver and spleen. The pancreas is spongy and needs to be in contact with these organs in order to develop its two vital functions: an exocrine function that helps in digestion and an endocrine function that regulates blood sugar.
Functions of the pancreas and cellular composition
The exocrine cells of the pancreas produce the enzymes responsible of the digestion. When food enters the stomach, the pancreatic juices containing these active enzymes are released into the ducts of the pancreas. The main one is in contact directly with the digestive tract to liberate the digestive enzymes into the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine. This process, together with the bile, will help digesting fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Acinar cells are the exocrine cells of the pancreas that produce and transport these enzymes into the duodenum where they assist in the digestion of food.
On the other side, endocrine cells secrete hormones to regulate the blood sugar levels. The main cellular structures of the endocrine function of the pancreas are the islets of Langerhans. These groups of cells, formed by alpha, beta, delta, gamma and epsilon cells, are few in the pancreas but essential to perform this function.
Instead of enzymes, the islets secret hormones into the blood stream, such as the two main regulators in the regulation of blood sugar levels: insulin, which acts to decrease them, and glucagon, which acts to increase them. Maintaining proper blood sugar levels is crucial to the functioning of key organs including brain, liver and kidneys.