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Pancreas Conditions


The pancreas is an organ which is located behind the stomach. It has two functions. It secretes enzymes into the small intestine which aid in digestion (exocrine function). It also produces the hormones insulin and glucagon which are released into the bloodstream to help regulate blood sugar (endocrine function). Pancreatitis is a condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed, and is most commonly caused by alcohol consumption or passage of a gallstone through the bile duct (the tube which connects the gallbladder to the small intestine). Other causes of acute pancreatitis include medications, infection, trauma, elevated triglycerides, abnormal pancreatic anatomy, and a complication from surgery or medical procedures. Symptoms of pancreatitis include severe pain in the upper abdomen which often travels into the back, nausea, and vomiting. Treatment consists of supportive care with intravenous fluids, medications to relieve pain, and nausea and management of any problems which may have contributed to the attack.

Pancreatic Pseudocyst

A fluid filled sac called a cyst can commonly arises on the pancreas as a complication of pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas gland which can result in leakage of pancreatic juices (digestive enzymes) into the tissue surrounding the pancreas. If this fluid is not reabsorbed and becomes walled off, a pseudocyst is formed. A pseudocyst can be small and asymptomatic. A large pseudocyst may cause symptoms by pressing against adjacent organs such as the stomach or intestines. Common symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Fever may occur if the fluid becomes infected. Small asymptomatic pseudocysts require no treatment and will often resolve spontaneously over time. Symptomatic or infected pseudocysts should be drained. This can be accomplished by draining the pseudocyst into an adjacent organ such as the stomach or small intestine, and can be performed by using endoscopy (passing a thin flexible scope into the stomach or intestine) or by surgery.

Pancreatic Cancer

This type of cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells arise within the pancreas gland. Adenocarcinoma, the most common form of pancreatic cancer, arises from the exocrine cells. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer include pain in the upper abdomen, poor appetite, weight loss, and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice). The diagnosis is confirmed by obtaining a tissue biopsy. Treatment consists of surgery to remove the cancerous growth or chemotherapy/radiation therapy to shrink the cancer. If surgery is not an option, a stent (plastic or metal tube) can be passed through the narrowing of the bile duct to relieve obstruction and jaundice. Most patients with pancreatic cancer have a poor prognosis, and less than 5% are living at five years after diagnosis.