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Organ Lessons: The Pancreas

It's time to take some organ lessons, but not the musical kind. I'm going to teach you about your internal organs, starting with the pancreas.

November is National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, devoted to educating people about the disease that took the life of Patrick Swayze earlier this year. If you're like most people, you probably don't know exactly what the pancreas does, so read on to learn more.

  • Where is the pancreas?
    This organ is located behind the liver and the stomach.
  • What is the pancreas?
    The pancreas is a tapered gland about six inches long.
  • What does the pancreas do?
    The pancreas performs both digestive and endocrine functions. For digestion, the gland secretes enzymes into the small intestine, which help us break down fat, protein, and carbs. In its endocrine duties, the pancreas produces insulin and glucagon, the hormones that lower and raise blood-sugar levels.
  • What can go wrong with the pancreas?
    Diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin to regulate blood sugar. Swelling or inflammation of the pancreas is called acute pancreatitis and could be caused by alcohol use or gallbladder problems, among other things. More serious is pancreatic cancer, which is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the US. Though anyone can get pancreatic cancer, some risk factors can increase the chances of getting this disease. Learn how to recognize the symptoms.

If you've never had a pancreatic problem, you probably haven't given this organ much thought. Have you or anyone you know ever suffered from any pancreatic ailments?

schonefrauen schonefrauen 7 years
I have hypoglycemia, so its a nightmare first because you need to establish a routine of what eat and not. But know I feel so right!
NurseKimberly NurseKimberly 7 years
The pancreas was first identified by Herophilus (335-280 BC), a Greek anatomist and surgeon. Only a few hundred years later, Ruphos, another Greek anatomist, gave the pancreas its name. The term "pancreas" is derived from the Greek πᾶν ("all", "whole"), and κρέας ("flesh"). Pancreatic cancer has claimed the lives of several famous people. • Count Basie, composer • Cardinal Joseph Bernardin • Ty Cobb, baseball Hall of Famer • Joan Crawford, actress • Michael Crichton, author • Dizzy Gillespie, musician and bandleader • Fred Gwynne, actor • Michael Landon, actor • Henry Mancini, composer • Randy Pausch, college professor (delivered his now-famous last lecture in 2007 at Carnegie Mellon University) • Luciano Pavarotti, opera singer • Sidney Pollack, actor and director • Donna Reed, actress • Gene Upshaw, football Hall of Famer • Dennis Weaver, actor The following people have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year: • NCAA President Myles Brand (diagnosed in January). • Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice (diagnosed in January). • Chuck Daly, former Detroit Pistons coach (announced in March). • Don Hewitt, "60 Minutes" creator (announced in March).
Spectra Spectra 7 years
My younger cousin has Type 1 diabetes, which she's had since she was 12. She manages it really well, though. She always checks her sugar levels and eats a very healthy diet. My aunt claims that her being diagnosed with diabetes was kind of a blessing for their whole family because now the whole family eats a lot healthier. I've never experienced pancreatitis, but if you have pets, be aware that they can suffer from it as well, especially around the holidays when there are lots of "goodies" around. When I worked at a vet clinic, we saw about 2 cases a week of canine pancreatitis following some sort of pig-out dog ate 2 lbs of Christmas cookies that the owners left on the counter, another dog managed to eat almost a whole turkey that was in the process of being eaten at a holiday family get-together. It's not usually life-threatening, but it's painful and scary when it happens.
insanitypepper insanitypepper 7 years
November is also Diabetes Awareness Month, and November 14 is World Diabetes Day. It's a big month for the pancreas!
michlny michlny 7 years
A guy in my office had his pancreas basically explode. He ate so much and so unhealthy. He came close to death. He ate really healthy for a while and lost a lot of weight - looked GREAT. Anyway, he is now back to where he was before - and I am scared for him.
Merlin713 Merlin713 7 years
Let me tell you this. Pancreatitis is very painful. In my situation, pancreatitis is a side effect of a pill I take that makes it to about 3% of the people taking it. I have never cried/not slept so much in my life. Absolutely horrible.
Yogaforlife Yogaforlife 7 years
Glad to learn this! Type II diabetes is rampant in my family and I have only a vague understanding of insulin production.
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