The pancreas is situated towards the back of the stomach, and close to the small intestine. It has an exocrine part that makes enzymes needed for digesting food and assimilating nutrients, and an endocrine part that makes hormones necessary for the processing of blood sugar. The enzymes synthesized in the exocrine pancreatic cells are conveyed through fine ducts, which combine to make up the main pancreatic duct. This duct carries the enzymes from the pancreas to the small intestine. Before opening into the small intestine, the pancreatic duct unites with the bile duct that delivers bile from the liver and gallbladder.
The main pancreatic duct traverses through the pancreas. It was first detected by a German anatomist, Johann Wirsung. Hence, the duct is also known as the duct of Wirsung. Some people may have another duct, smaller in size, besides this primary duct. The extra duct is called the Duct of Santorini.
The main duct transports the secretions of the pancreas to the duodenum, which is a part of the small intestine. Pancreatic juice includes digestive enzymes that act on carbohydrates, fat, and proteins in the food, and bicarbonates. The particular type of cells that occur in pancreatic ducts discharge bicarbonates, which is an alkaline fluid. The alkaline secretion neutralizes the acidity of the partly digested food passed into the small intestine from the stomach.
Sometimes the pancreatic duct can get blocked, as can happen in people who suffer from gallstones, for instance. A gallstone can break away from the gall bladder and become wedged in the pancreatic duct, affecting the flow of the enzymes. This can lead to pancreatitis, a condition in which pancreas gets inflamed, causing pain in the abdominal area. The enzymes that normally start working after reaching the small intestine get stimulated in the pancreas itself and can harm its tissue. People who are heavy alcohol drinkers may develop chronic pancreatitis, where the inflammation and pain lasts.
In some cases, cysts may form as the pancreatic duct gets blocked and the enzymatic fluid accumulates. The cysts may grow bigger and the condition may exacerbate the pain, and cause vomiting. The cysts may disappear without treatment. In certain instances, the cysts may need to be removed surgically or may have to be drained.
Pancreatic cancer is a serious ailment that occurs when the pancreatic cells multiply abnormally and develop into tumors. Sometimes the cells in the duct of the pancreas begin to turn cancerous. This is the type of tumor seen most often in people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Different tests and procedures are involved in assessing pancreatic tumors and their stage.