The pancreas is about 6 inches long and the head is on the right side of the abdomen. It connects to the duodenum (first section of the small intestine) through the pancreatic duct. The tail (narrow end) of the pancreas extends to the left side of the body. The pancreas is made up of glandular tissue.
As well as the head and the tail, the pancreas comprises the uncinate process (which emerges from the lower part of the head), the neck (the constricted part between the body and the head), and the main body. The head drains into the superior mesenteric (the vessel that drains blood from the small intestine) and portal veins (drains blood from the gastrointestinal tract and spleen) while the body and neck drain into the splenic vein (the vessel that drains blood from the spleen).
The pancreas contains enzyme-producing cells that secrete two hormones: Glucagon and insulin. They are secreted directly into the bloodstream and regulate the level of glucose in the blood. Glucagon increases the blood sugar level if it falls too low and insulin lowers the blood sugar level if it rises too high, increasing the amount of glucagon in the liver.
The pancreas also aids digestion by releasing digestive juices through a duct into your duodenum when you eat. The fluid is rich in enzymes that break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates. It also contains sodium bicarbonate that neutralizes the acid in your stomach.
The pancreas was first identified by the Greek anatomist and surgeon Herophilus (335-280BC). It was named by another Greek anatomist, Rufus of Ephesus. The name is derived from the Greek words for whole and flesh.