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What is the Difference Between the Pancreas and the Spleen?

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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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The pancreas and the spleen are important bodily organs found within the upper segment of the abdominal cavity. Beyond these basic similarities, however, the pancreas and the spleen are quite different in function, composition, and appearance. The pancreas produces enzymes and hormones that aid digestion and help regulate blood sugar. It is oblong in shape and is made up of two types of cell clusters, known as acini and Islets of Langerhans. As part of the lymphatic system, the bean-shaped spleen helps remove waste material from the blood and fight infections, and is made primarily of two types of tissue, known as red pulp and white pulp.

One of the most significant differences between the pancreas and the spleen is their respective function. The two main jobs of the pancreas are the production of the hormones glucagon, insulin, and somatostatin, and the manufacture of digestive enzymes. These pancreatic hormones perform the important function of regulating the blood’s sugar levels. The enzymes produced by the pancreas are sent to the small intestine and the bile duct, where they aid digestion by breaking down carbohydrates, acids, proteins, and fats and neutralizing the stomach acid.

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Despite its close proximity to the pancreas, the spleen’s job is quite different from that of its neighbor. This abdominal organ is part of the lymphatic system, which regulates the body’s fluid balance and helps battle infection. As part of this lymphatic system, the spleen helps filter waste material from the blood, and also dispatches white blood cells capable of surrounding and destroying foreign bodies such as viruses in the blood.

The pancreas and the spleen are also distinct in appearance and composition. Generally, the pancreas is around 6 inches (15.24 cm) in length, with an oblong shape that is tapered at its upper end. For the most part, it is made up of two distinct types of cell clusters, known as acini clusters and Islets of Langerhans. These acini clusters manufacture the pancreatic enzymes, while the Islets of Langerhans produce the pancreatic hormones.

Conversely, the spleen is a bean-shaped organ that is roughly 4 inches (10.16 cm) in length. It is mainly composed of two types of tissue, known as red pulp and white pulp. This so-called red pulp functions to remove waste materials from the blood, while the white pulp manufactures and dispatches white blood cells which detect and destroy foreign bodies, such as viruses, which have invaded the bloodstream.

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mutsy
Post 3

@ElzaBennett - I read that pancreatic cancer is really hard to detect until it is more advanced because there aren’t very visible symptoms. I did read that sudden weight loss, development of jaundice and pain in the top part of the stomach are possible symptoms of the disease. I know that it is considered one of the most deadly forms of cancer. However, there are a lot of pancreatic cancer clinical trials available.

ElizaBennett
Post 2

@MissDaphne - You can, actually. I don't know if they do it for pancreatic cancer. My grandfather had something called a Whipple procedure for his pancreatic cancer. Basically, they just remove the tumor and leave the rest of your pancreas, the important part.

But I was reading an article just the other day about pancreas removal. Apparently it's done sometimes for people with really bad, recurring pancreatitis. It causes severe diabetes, because your body can no longer produce insulin, so obviously it's a last resort - diabetes can really do a number on your body.

But apparently a few places are doing new procedures where they are able to leave in just the insulin-producing part of the pancreas and remove the rest.

MissDaphne
Post 1

I've heard of people who've had their spleens removed and that doesn't seem to be a big deal, although I guess it weakens your immune system a bit.

Can you have your pancreas removed and survive? Like if you have cancer of the pancreas or something like that?

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