Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer

A risk factor is something about you that increases your chance of getting a disease or having a certain health condition. Some risk factors for pancreatic cancer you cannot change, but some you can. Changing the risk factors that you have control over will help you live a longer, healthier life.

Risk factors do not mean that you will get the disease. Many people who have these risk factors do not develop the disease and many who develop the disease did not have any of these risk factors.

The precise cause of all pancreatic cancers is not known and most cases of the disease are sporadic.

General Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer

  • Age – Pancreatic cancer is more common in people age 55 and older.
  • Gender – Pancreatic cancer is slightly more common in men than in women.
  • Race/Ethnicity – African Americans are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than whites.
  • Smoking – People who smoke are two to three times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.
  • Obesity – People who are obese are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. Exercise reduces the risk of cancer of the pancreas.
  • Diabetes – People who have diabetes are at greater risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
  • Family history – Pancreatic cancer does run in some families. People with a first-degree relative, such as mother or brother, diagnosed with this disease are more likely to get it themselves. (See below for more information.)
  • Diet – Some studies show that a high-fat diet low on vegetables and fruits may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Hereditary Risk Factors for Pancreas Cancer

While most cases of pancreatic cancer are sporadic, some are inherited or have a genetic basis. If pancreatic cancer is inherited, it’s usually seen in families with a number of members diagnosed with pancreatic and other types of cancer.

If you have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, child) with pancreatic cancer, your risk is four to five times greater than the regular population for developing pancreatic cancer. Your risk increases significantly if you have two or more relatives with pancreatic cancer.

Having two or more relatives with pancreatic cancer also increases the likelihood that your family has a hereditary predisposition toward developing pancreatic cancer. Other signs that there may be a hereditary predisposition toward pancreatic cancer include:

  • Personal or family history of breast cancer and pancreatic cancer
  • Personal or family history of endocrine tumors (growths in the hormone-producing glands) and pancreatic cancer

If you are concerned that you or a member of your family may have a hereditary condition that may affect your chances of developing pancreatic cancer, talk with your physician and ask for a referral to the Scott & White Genetics Clinic for genetic counseling. Genetic testing to determine whether you or someone in your family may have a hereditary cancer predisposition is clinically available.

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