The pancreas is a gland, about six inches long, located in the abdomen. It is surrounded by the stomach, small intestine, liver and spleen. It is shaped like a flat pear. The wide end of the pancreas is called the head, the middle section is the body, and the thin end is the tail. The uncinate process is the part of the gland that bends backwards and underneath the head of the pancreas. The pancreas has two main functions. One function is called the exocrine function. This involves the production of enzymes that help in digestion. The second function of the pancreas is the endocrine function, which involves the production of the two hormones insulin and glucagon. Islet cells within the pancreas produce and secrete insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream. These hormones work together to maintain the
proper level of sugar in the blood. When cells in the pancreas grow out of control, a tumor develops.
Diagnosing pancreatic cancer may be difficult. Symptoms are not always obvious and usually develop gradually. If an individual is experiencing symptoms that suggest pancreatic cancer is present, a variety of tests may be performed to make an accurate diagnosis. Usually, the doctor will ask the individual about medical and family history and will perform a physical exam. The doctor will examine the patient's body, including skin and eyes, and feel the abdomen to check for changes in the area near the pancreas, liver and gallbladder. Blood, urine and stool tests may be ordered. There is currently no simple blood test for pancreatic cancer. People with pancreatic cancer often have elevated levels of bilirubin and liver enzymes in the blood.