Your pancreas is a large, tadpole-shaped gland situated deep in your belly. It plays an important role in digestion and blood sugar regulation. Pancreatic disease can be hard to diagnose due to the location of the organ. But there are things you can do to reduce your risk for these conditions.


Your pancreas is connected to your biliary system. It sends enzymes to your intestine through your bile ducts.
Your pancreas is a fish-shaped organ about the length of your hand.

What is a pancreas?

The pancreas is a large gland in the back of your abdomen (belly). It’s part of your digestive system and your endocrine system. Your pancreas is a dual organ — like a factory with two production lines. It makes:


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What does the pancreas do?

Your pancreas helps with digestion and releases hormones that regulate your blood sugar. It also plays a role in supporting other organs like your heart, liver and kidneys.

Aids in digestion

Your pancreas makes about 1 to 4 liters (L) of enzyme-rich juice each day to help you digest the foods you eat. The exact amount varies depending on how much food you eat.

After you eat, you probably don’t think much about how your food gets digested unless you develop indigestion. But several organs actually work together to help you break it down. Here’s how it works when food enters your stomach:

  1. Your pancreas releases juice into small ducts (tubes) that flow into your main pancreatic duct.
  2. Your main pancreatic duct connects with your bile duct. This duct transports bile (a fluid that helps with digestion) from your liver to your gallbladder.
  3. From your gallbladder, the bile travels to part of your small intestine called the duodenum.
  4. Both the bile and the pancreatic juice enter your duodenum to break down food.

Produces hormones

Your pancreas makes hormones (like insulin and glucagon) that help control the levels of sugar in your bloodstream. When your blood sugar is too high, your pancreas makes insulin to lower it. When your blood sugar is too low, your pancreas makes glucagon to increase it.

Your body needs balanced blood sugar to run properly, and to keep organs like your heart, liver, kidneys and brain working well.


Where is the pancreas located?

Your pancreas sits behind your stomach and in front of your spine. Your gallbladder, liver and spleen surround your pancreas.

What side is your pancreas on?

The head of your pancreas is on the right side of your body. It’s tucked beside the curve of your duodenum — that’s the very first part of your small intestine, where your food goes when it leaves your stomach. The tail of your pancreas extends over to the left side of your body, near your spleen.

Pancreas anatomy

Parts of the pancreas include the:

  • Head: The wider part of your pancreas that sits in the curve of your duodenum.
  • Neck: The short part of your pancreas extending from the head.
  • Body: The middle part of your pancreas between the head and neck, which extends upward.
  • Tail: The thinnest part of your pancreas, located near your spleen.


What does the pancreas look like?

Your pancreas resembles a tadpole — thick on one end and thin at the other, and the outer texture is bumpy like a cob of corn. It’s around 6 inches (in) long — about the length of your hand.

How much does the pancreas weigh?

On average, a healthy human pancreas weighs around 91.8 grams (0.20 pounds). That’s about the same as a deck of playing cards.

Conditions and Disorders

What conditions and disorders can affect the pancreas?

The following disorders can affect the pancreas:

  • Type 1 diabetes: Type 1 diabetes occurs when your pancreas doesn’t produce insulin.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body makes insulin but doesn’t use it correctly.
  • Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar): Hyperglycemia happens when your body produces too much glucagon. This results in high blood sugar levels.
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar): Hypoglycemia occurs when your body produces too much insulin. It causes low blood sugar levels.
  • Pancreatitis: Pancreatitis happens when enzymes start to work in the pancreas before they reach the duodenum. It may result from gallstones or alcohol use disorder. Pancreatitis can be temporary or long-lasting (chronic).
  • Pancreatic cancer: Cancerous cells in the pancreas cause pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer can be difficult to detect and treat.

Common symptoms of pancreatic conditions

Symptoms of pancreas problems may include:

Common tests to check the health of the pancreas

Because your pancreas sits deep in your abdomen, it’s not easy for providers to check it through a physical examination. So, they may use pancreas function tests like:

Your provider may use surgery to look for issues in your pancreas.


Common treatments for the pancreas

Healthcare providers treat pancreas conditions in different ways, depending on the condition:

  • Diabetes: Insulin replacement.
  • Pancreatic cancer: Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
  • Pancreatitis: Dietary changes, medications and sometimes surgery.

Some people may need a pancreas transplant or pancreatectomy (surgical removal of some or all of their pancreas). Less commonly, people may have a transplant of islets of Langerhans cells (pancreatic cells that make insulin and glucagon) into their liver to maintain insulin function.


How can I keep my pancreas healthy?

You can help reduce your risk of pancreatic conditions by:

Additional Common Questions

Can I live without a pancreas?

Yes, you can live without your pancreas. But you’ll need to take enzyme pills to digest food and insulin shots to control your blood sugar for the rest of your life. Though pancreatic removal is rare, surgeons may remove your entire pancreas if you have pancreatic cancer, major injury to your pancreas or severe pancreatitis.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Chances are, you don’t think about your pancreas much unless you develop a condition that affects its function. Tucked away in the back of your belly, your pancreas is like a factory with two production lines — each focused on different jobs. Getting the proper nutrition and avoiding things like smoking and drinking too much can help keep your pancreas healthy for the long haul.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 02/26/2024.

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