About the Pancreas
The pancreas is located behind the stomach. It comprises the exocrine pancreas, which produces pancreatic enzymes that break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and the endocrine pancreas, which produces the hormones insulin and glucagon that regulate how the body stores and uses food.
About 95 percent of pancreatic cancers begin in the exocrine pancreas, while the remaining 5 percent are of the endocrine pancreas. Typically, pancreatic cancer spreads first to nearby lymph nodes, then to the liver and, less commonly, the lungs.
Alterations of Function in Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer can alter the normal function of the pancreas by:
- Creating a deficiency of pancreatic enzymes and bile salts, thus disrupting pH.
- Causing poor absorption of nutrients from food.
- Impairing the use of pancreatic enzymes.
The pancreas secretes about 2 liters of bicarbonate (a buffer) to neutralize stomach acid in the small intestine. Reduced bicarbonate levels create an acidic microenvironment that weakens the activity of pancreatic enzymes. Some evidence suggests that antacids and an alkaline diet may be beneficial for managing symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer and its treatment (Uwagawa 2010; Nakamura 1995; Ohta 1996).