The Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center

What are risk factors for pancreatic cancer?

There are some factors which can increase the risk of acquiring the genetic mutations that may potentially result in pancreatic cancer. These risk factors are outlined in the table below. You will notice that coffee and alcohol are not listed. Currently there is not strong evidence to suggest that consumption of either substance will increase your risk for developing cancer of the pancreas.

  1. Cigarette smoking:illustration of person smokingCigarette smoking doubles the risk of pancreatic cancer. In fact, some scientists have estimated that one in four, or one in five cases of pancreatic cancer are caused by smoking cigarettes. Smoking is also associated with early age at diagnosis. Very importantly, the risk of pancreatic cancer drops close to normal in people who quit smoking. Simply put, cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of pancreatic cancer.
  2. Age: The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. Over 80% of pancreatic cancers develop between the ages of 60 and 80 years.
  3. Race: Studies in the United States have shown that pancreatic cancer is more common in the African American population than it is in the white population. Some of this increased risk may be due to socioeconomic factors and to cigarette smoking.
  4. Gender: Cancer of the pancreas is more common in men than in women. Men are more likely to smoke than women.
  5. Religious background: Pancreatic cancer is proportionally more common in Ashkenazi Jews than the rest of the population. This may be because of a particular inherited mutation in the breast cancer gene (BRCA2) which runs in some Ashkenazi Jewish families.
  6. Chronic pancreatitis: Long-term (chronic) inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) has been linked to cancer of the pancreas.
  7. Diabetes mellitus: Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) can be a symptom of pancreatic cancer, and long-standing adult-onset diabetes also increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.
  8. Obesity: Obesity significantly increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. Believe it or not, it has been estimated that 8% of cancers are related to obesity.
  9. Diet: Diets high in meats, cholesterol, fried foods and nitrosamines may increase risk, while diets high in fruits and vegetables reduce risk. The vitamin folate may be protective.
  10. Genetics: As mentioned earlier, a number of inherited cancer syndromes increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. These include the breast cancer syndrome (BRCA2 and PALB2), familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome (FAMMM), Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer syndrome), and the Peutz-Jeghers syndrome. More information about these syndromes is provided in the genetics section of this web page and on the web site of the National Familial Pancreas Tumor Registry.

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