Understanding Pancreatic Cancer

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Risk Factors

Although researchers have not yet established the causes of pancreatic cancer, countless studies have discovered several risk factors associated with an increased chance of developing cancer of the pancreas.

Age
Age

Your risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases as you age. According to the American Cancer Society, 90% of people with pancreatic cancer are over the age of 55 with the average age at diagnosis being 72. Nonetheless, younger people with a family history of the disease may also be at higher risk.

Race
Race

Pancreatic cancer occurs more often among African Americans than members of other racial and ethnic groups.

Gender
Gender

Although the gender gap has been closing in recent years, men are still slightly more likely than women to develop pancreatic cancer.

Smoking
Smoking

Smokers are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than nonsmokers. Between 20 and 30% of all pancreatic cancers are believed to be directly linked to cigarette smoking.

Chronic pancreatitis

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Chronic pancreatitis

A personal or family history of chronic inflammation of the pancreas has been suggested to increase your risk of developing cancer of the pancreas. Still, the majority of people who experience pancreatitis will not develop pancreatic cancer.

Family history
Family history

Certain hereditary genetic syndromes such as an altered BRCA2 gene, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, Lynch syndrome, and familial atypical mole-malignant melanoma (a family history of multiple, cancerous moles) increase a person's likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer. Additionally, if your parents, brother, or sister had pancreatic cancer, your risk for being diagnosed with the cancer triples.

Diabetes
Diabetes

While the link is unknown, people with type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than people without diabetes. Sudden onset diabetes can also be a risk factor as well as a symptom of pancreatic cancer.

Obesity
Obesity

People who are considered obese or overweight and those who do not engage in sufficient physical activity are at an increased risk of developing cancer of the pancreas.

Inherited Genetic Syndromes
Inherited Genetic Syndromes

An inherited genetic syndrome is a condition in which abnormal genes are passed on from parent to child. Inherited genetic syndromes have been found to cause up to 10% of pancreatic cancers. Some syndromes known to increase this risk are hereditary breast or ovarian cancer syndrome and familial melanoma.

Occupational Exposure
Occupational Exposure

Exposure to certain chemicals used in the metal refining industry may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

steak-dinner
Diet

A diet high in fat and red meat may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Remember, all of these characteristics only indicate risk, not certainty. People without any of these risk factors may develop pancreatic cancer, and people with many of the risk factors listed above will never develop the disease. Importantly, while there is no guaranteed way to prevent cancer of the pancreas, several risk factors can be avoided through steps such as quitting smoking, eating a healthier diet, and increasing your level of physical fitness.