Risks and Prevention

Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include:

  • Age
    Most pancreatic cancer occurs in people over the age of 55.
  • Smoking
    Heavy cigarette smokers are two or three times more likely than nonsmokers to develop pancreatic cancer.
  • Obesity and physical inactivity
    Pancreatic cancer is more common in people who are very overweight and in people who are not physically active.
  • Diabetes
    Pancreatic cancer occurs more often in people who have type 2 diabetes than in those who do not.
  • Gender
    More men than women are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
  • Genetic factors
    Approximately 10 percent of people with pancreatic cancer have one or more inherited genetic mutations that can also cause other diseases, including familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome, familial breast cancer, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, and hereditary pancreatitis.

    Mutations in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, which increase the risk of breast, prostate, and certain gynecologic cancers, have been found in some families with a history of pancreatic cancer. Other inherited genetic factors have been identified, but do not greatly increase an individual’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
  • Race
    African-Americans are more likely than Asians, Hispanics, or whites to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
  • Family history
    The risk for developing pancreatic cancer is higher if a person's mother, father, or a sibling had the disease. An estimated 5 to 10 percent of people with pancreatic cancer have one or more family members who have had the disease. According to the National Cancer Institute, people with a strong family history of pancreatic cancer are nine times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than others.
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
    People with cirrhosis have a higher risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • Workplace exposures
    Exposure to certain occupational carcinogens like asbestos, pesticides, dyes, and chemicals used in the metal industry may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • Chronic pancreatitis
    Long-term inflammation of the pancreas, often caused by excessive alcohol abuse, has been linked to an increased risk for pancreatic cancer.
  • Benign and pre-cancerous pancreatic lesions
    Advances in imaging technology have dramatically increased the number of small abnormalities that are found in the pancreas. Most of these abnormalities are identified during imaging for another condition. Many of them are benign, fluid-filled cysts and are unlikely to cause symptoms or shorten a person’s life. Others are pre-cancerous and have the ability to turn into pancreatic cancer.