What is the role of the pancreas?

May 11, 2023

Savannah Surgeon Dr. Russell Kirks explains the function of the pancreas and possible treatment if damaged

It may not be the first part of your body’s anatomy that comes to mind, but the pancreas plays an important role in daily bodily function.

The pancreas is a long, tapered gland surrounded by the liver, gallbladder, stomach and small intestine. It’s main duct connects with the main bile duct.

The right side of the organ is called the head. It’s the widest part of he organ. It lies in the curve of the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine. The tapered left side extends slightly upward. It’s called the body of the pancreas. It ends in the tail, which is near the spleen.

The pancreas is part of the hepatobiliary system. Dr. Russell Kirks is a hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgeon with Metro Surgical. Hepatobiliary surgery treats benign and malignant problems of the liver, pancreas and bile duct.

Savannah surgeon Dr. Russell Kirks

Related Article: What is the role of the liver?

The hepatobiliary system and pancreas play the essential roles of converting the bad stuff we ingest into waste and the good stuff we eat into fuel for our body’s cells.

“Your pancreas has two global functions,” Dr. Kirks explains. “One is to make hormones that are secreted into your blood. Probably the most famous of those is insulin, which lowers your blood sugar levels. The other function is making a digestive juice that makes it easier for you to digest and absorb fats and proteins. That endocrine and exocrine functions are the two main roles of the pancreas.”

The pancreas can become damaged in a variety of ways, both benign and malignant. “Those can be things people are born with, things that happen from injuries or other surgeries or the long-term effect of other diseases and cancers.”

One common condition is chronic pancreatitis which is an inflammation of the pancreas that impairs its function and does not heal or improve. It can be managed with pain medicine and supplements, if needed.

Many of Dr. Kirks’ patients are referred to him when a cancerous tumor is discovered, and they are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The American Cancer Society estimated more than 64,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2023. Of that, more than 50,000 will die of pancreatic cancer.

Surgery may be recommended if you are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. One of the most notable surgeries offered by Dr. Kirks is the pancreaticoduodenectomy, also known as the Whipple procedure.

“The Whipple operation is the removal of the head of the pancreas, the bile duct, the gallbladder and typically the bottom third of the stomach, and then creating connections to drain those organs back into the intestinal tract,” Dr. Kirk says. “It’s very involved and is typically done to remove cancerous tumors.”

Protecting your pancreas

Unfortunately, there are some things we can’t control that can lead to pancreatic cancer such as age, gender (males are more likely to get it), race and family history. But there are things you can do to reduce your risk of not just pancreatic cancer but general damage to your pancreas.

  • Don’t smoke
  • Watch your diet and body weight
  • Get regularly physical activity
  • Avoid alcohol use
  • Limit exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace


Learn more about Dr. Kirks here

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