Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors

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The exact causes of pancreatic cancer are not yet well understood. Research studies have identified certain risk factors that may increase the likelihood that an individual will develop pancreatic cancer.

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Risk Factors Associated with Pancreatic Cancer

Family History
If you are a first-degree relative of someone diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, you may have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Your family member with pancreatic cancer is strongly recommended to undergo genetic testing for inherited mutations.

Negative results often mean you do not need to get genetic testing. If the results are positive, unknown or if you have several close family members with cancer, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network recommends you consult with a genetic counselor to determine if you should get genetic testing for inherited cancer risk and if you should discuss options for monitoring.

For more information and genetic counseling resources, contact PanCAN’s Patient Central.

The risk increases if more family members are affected. Also, the risk of pancreatic cancer increases if there is a history of familial breast, ovarian or colon cancer, familial melanoma or hereditary pancreatitis.

Approximately 10% of pancreatic cancer cases are related to a mutation the patient was born with. Learn more about family history and pancreatic cancer.

Inherited Genetic Mutations
Inherited genetic mutations and syndromes associated with a higher risk of getting pancreatic cancer include: BRCA mutation, Cystic Fibrosis, Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP), Familial Atypical Multiple Mole Melanoma (FAMMM), Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC) or Lynch Syndrome, hereditary pancreatitis, PALB2 mutation and Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome.

Pancreatic cancer is more likely to occur in people who have long-standing (over 5 years) diabetes.

Chronic Pancreatitis and Hereditary Pancreatitis
People with chronic pancreatitis have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Chronic pancreatitis is common in individuals who consume large amounts of alcohol for many years.

Hereditary pancreatitis causes recurrent episodes of inflammation of the pancreas that generally start by the time a person is 20 years old. The risk of developing pancreatic cancer is even higher in individuals who have hereditary pancreatitis.

Smoking is a significant risk factor and may cause about 20-30 percent of all exocrine pancreatic cancer cases. People who smoke cigarettes are 2 times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than people who have never smoked.

Race (Ethnicity)
African-Americans have a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer compared to individuals of Asian, Hispanic or Caucasian descent. There is also a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer among Ashkenazi Jews, possibly due to a mutation involving the breast cancer (BRCA2) gene that is found in about 1 percent of individuals of this background.

The chance of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. Most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are over the age of 60.

Slightly more men are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer than women. This may be linked to higher smoking rates in men.

The link of diet and the development of pancreatic cancer is still unclear. A diet high in red and processed meats is thought to increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. A diet high in fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk.

Obese people have a 20 percent increased risk of developing the disease compared to people who are of normal weight. The risk is even higher in people who are obese during early adulthood. People with excessive abdominal fat may have an increased risk independent of general obesity.

Some research suggests a link between heavy alcohol consumption and pancreatic cancer. The risk of developing pancreatic cancer is higher in people who consume more than three alcoholic drinks daily compared to those who do not.

Research suggests that exposure to certain environmental chemicals and heavy metals may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. These include beta-naphthylamine, benzidine, pesticides, asbestos, benzene and chlorinated hydrocarbons.

Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease and tooth loss appear to be linked to pancreatic cancer, even when controlling for other risk factors.


Visit the following pages for more information:
Genetics of pancreatic cancer
Genetic counseling
Genetic mutations

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For more information on risk factors or for free, in-depth and personalized resources and information on pancreatic cancer, contact a Patient Central Associate.


Information provided by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Inc. (“PanCAN”) is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or other health care services. PanCAN may provide information to you about physicians, products, services, clinical trials or treatments related to pancreatic cancer, but PanCAN does not recommend nor endorse any particular health care resource. In addition, please note any personal information you provide to PanCAN’s staff during telephone and/or email communications may be stored and used to help PanCAN achieve its mission of assisting patients with, and finding cures and treatments for, pancreatic cancer. Stored constituent information may be used to inform PanCAN programs and activities. Information also may be provided in aggregate or limited formats to third parties to guide future pancreatic cancer research and education efforts. PanCAN will not provide personal directly identifying information (such as your name or contact information) to such third parties without your prior written consent unless required or permitted by law to do so. For more information on how we may use your information, you can find our privacy policy on our website at