Certain factors may increase your chances of developing pancreatic cancer. Risk factors that have been scientifically proven to have biological or genetic links to pancreatic cancer are cigarette smoking, chronic pancreatitis and family history.
Cigarette smokers are twice as likely as nonsmokers to develop pancreatic cancer. Using cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco products also increases your risk.
Scientific studies have shown that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). When inflammation occurs, inflammatory cells secrete growth factors and toxins. After many years of chronic inflammation in the pancreas, these growth factors and toxins cause genetic damage and the uncontrolled growth of pancreatic cells. This can lead to pancreatic cancer. It is important to note that it takes many years of chronic pancreatitis to increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
It is not clear how much alcohol causes chronic pancreatitis. The American Cancer Society recommends that women avoid drinking more than one drink per day while men should drink no more than two drinks per day. However, chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer are associated with large amounts of alcohol consumed over an extended period of time.
While knowing your family history of disease is important, most pancreatic cancer patients do not have a family history. Scientists are still learning about the genes that are associated with inherited cancers.
Researchers have identified some possible connections between family relationships and increased cancer risk. For example, individuals with two or more first-degree relatives (parent, sibling or child) who have had pancreatic cancer have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Also, individuals with three or more close relatives (aunts, uncles or grandparents) are also at risk.
There are some inherited genes that are associated with an increased risk of multiple cancers. The American Cancer Society reports that up to 10 percent of pancreatic cancers are caused by inherited gene mutations that are passed from parent to child. For example, an inherited mutation in the BRCA2 gene increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. Individuals of Jewish descent are more prone to this mutation.
More Information About Pancreatic Cancer from Johns Hopkins Medicine
Screening Program for High-Risk Patients
The Skip Viragh Center for Pancreas Cancer has one of the largest studies to screen individuals with a family history of pancreatic cancer and is one of the world leaders in prevention of pancreatic cancer. Our physicians are leading an international consortium of medical centers in a collaborative, worldwide screening effort.
Learn more about the National Familial Pancreas Tumor Registry (NFPTR).
Other Risk Factors
Additional risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer include:
Age: Most cases of pancreatic cancer develop between the ages of 60 and 80 years.
Gender: Pancreatic cancer is more common in men than in women.
Race: African Americans have higher incidences of pancreatic cancer than whites, Asians or Hispanics.
Diabetes: Some studies have linked type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the hormone insulin does not work as well to process sugars in the body, to pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cystic tumors: Pancreatic cysts (also called intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms) may become precancerous or cancerous based on their location within the pancreas.
Diet: Eating an excessive amount of red and processed meats may increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer. In addition, a few studies have suggested a link between soft drinks and pancreatic cancer, but much more research is needed to understand and confirm this link. Most health experts recommend not drinking too many high-calorie soft drinks to promote a healthy lifestyle and avoid many diseases, including obesity and diabetes.
Industrial chemical exposure: Excessive exposure to dry cleaning and metalworking chemicals may increase pancreatic cancer risk.
More Information About Pancreatic Cancer in the Health Library