Glossary of Pancreatic Terms

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Ampulla of Vater

Also known as the hepatopancreatic ampulla, the ampulla of Vater is formed by the union of the common bile duct and the pancreatic duct when they enter the intestine. 


An enzyme that breaks down starch into sugar (polysaccharides). Amylase is present in human saliva, where it begins the chemical process of digestion.


Refers to tumors that do not spread to other organs or sites.


An alkaline (basic) fluid secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder between meals. Upon eating, bile is discharged into the duodenum where is aids in the digestion of fats.


The yellow breakdown product of heme catabolism (heme is the principle component of hemoglobin, present in red blood cells). Bilirubin is excreted in bile, and its levels are elevated in certain diseases.


A medical test involving the removal of cells or a small piece of tissue for examination.


A tube that is inserted in a body cavity, duct, or vessel. Catheters allow for drainage, injection of fluids, or access by surgical instruments.

Celiac Artery/Axis

A short, thick trunk which arises from the front of the aorta that divides into the left gastric artery, the hepatic artery, and the splenic artery.


A consequence of chronic liver disease characterized by the replacement of liver tissue with fibrous scar tissue leading to progressive loss of liver function.

Common Bile Duct

The common bile duct carries bile from the liver, where it is synthesized, to the duodenum for use to emulsify fats or to the gallbladder for storage.

CT Scan

A medical imaging method employed to generate a three-dimensional image of the inside of an object from a large series of two-dimensional x-ray images taken around a single axis of rotation.


The study of cells.


A syndrome characterized by disordered metabolism and abnormally high blood sugar resulting from an insufficiency of the hormone insulin. The characteristic symptoms are excessive urine production due to high blood-glucose levels, excessive thirst, increased fluid uptake, unexplained weight loss and lethargy.


Any drug that elevates the rate of urination. While there are many different types of diuretic, all increase the rate of excretion of water from the body.


The first part of the small intestine that connects the stomach to the jejunum, the second part of the small intestine. The duodenum is the shortest part of the small intestine.


A term used in pathology to refer to an abnormality in maturation of cells within a tissue. This generally consists of an expansion of immature cells, with a corresponding decrease in the number and location of mature cells.

Endocrine Gland

Glands that secrete their products directly into the blood stream rather than into ducts. Primary endocrine glands include the pancreas, testes, thyroid, adrenal, parathyroid and pituitary glands.


Biomolecules that increase the rate of (catalyze) chemical reactions. Almost all enzymes are proteins. Almost all reactions in a biological system need enzymes to proceed at significant rates.


Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography is a technique incorporating endoscopy and fluoroscopy to diagnose and treat certain problems of the pancreatic ductal system.


The study of causation.


Endoscopic Ultrasound, a medical procedure in which an endoscopically directed ultrasound is used to obtain images of the internal organs in the chest and abdomen.

Exocrine Gland

Glands that secrete their products into ducts. Typical exocrine glands include sweat glands, salivary glands, and mammary glands.


A small organ whose function is to store bile.

Gastric Ileus

A condition in which normal gastric movement is stopped and normal gastric functions are disturbed. Gastric ileus is usually caused by inflammation, injury, or operation.


A hormone produced by the pancreas that is involved in carbohydrate metabolism. Glucagon is released when blood glucose levels are low, stimulating the liver to convert stored glycogen into glucose and release it into the blood stream.


A simple sugar that is used by the body as a source of energy and a metabolic intermediate.


Chemicals that are released by cells that affect other cells in the body. Hormones are transported in the bloodstream and acts as a chemical messenger.


A hormone that induces cells to take up glucose from the blood. When insulin is not present, cells are unable to take up glucose and use fat as an alternate energy source. An inability to produce insulin is the primary cause of Type I diabetes mellitus.


A yellow discoloration of the skin, whites of the eyes and mucous membranes caused by an increase of bilirubin present in the blood (hyperbilirubinemia)

Lymph Node

An organ consisting of many types of cells that is part of the lymphatic system. Lymph nodes act as filters or traps for foreign particles and contain white blood cells. Lymph nodes are important for the functioning of the immune system. Adjacent lymph nodes are usually removed during cancer surgery to look for any spreading of the cancer.


A lipase blood test is often ordered to diagnose and monitor pancreatitis and other pancreatic disorders.


A medical term used to describe a severe and progressively worsening disease. The term is most frequently used in describing cancerous growths. A malignant tumor is not self-limiting in its growth and can invade adjacent tissues or potentially spread to distant tissues (metastasize).


Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography, an MRI alternative to ERCP to visualize the biliary tract and pancreatic ducts.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging, an imaging technique primarily used in radiology to visualize the structures and functions of the body. MRI provides greater contrast between the soft tissues of the body than CT technology, making it especially useful in neurological, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and oncological imaging.

Pancreatic Duct

A duct joining the pancreas to the common bile duct to supply pancreatic juices which aid in digestion. The pancreatic duct joins with the common bile duct, ending in the duodenum.

PET Scan

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanning is a type of imaging test that aids doctors in determining how bodily tissues and organs are functioning.

Portal Vein

Portal Vein refers a large vein that drains blood from the digestive tract to the liver. The portal vein runs very close to the pancreas for much of its length.


A technique for tracking the passage of a sample of a substance through a system. The substance is labeled using radionucleotides in its chemical composition. As the radionucleotides decay, their presence can be tracked by detecting the minute amounts of radioactivity emitted. PET scans use this technology.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses certain types of energy to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The energy affects cancer cells by damaging genetic material, making it impossible for the cells to grow and divide.

Spy-Glass Direct Visualization System 

A newer intraductal visualization technique that allows for intraductal viewing and optically-guided biopsies.

Superior Mesenteric Artery

A blood vessel arising from the anterior side of the abdominal aorta. The superior mesenteric artery supplies the small intestine with oxygenated blood.

Superior Mesenteric Vein

A blood vessel draining blood from the small intestine. The vessel terminates behind the neck of the pancreas, combining with the splenic vein to become the portal vein.


A molecule of glycerol with three fatty acids attached. Triglycerides are the primary component of vegetable oils and fats digested by humans.