Risk Factors

Most people who develop pancreatic cancer do so without any predisposing risk factors. Perhaps the biggest risk factor is increasing age; being over the age of 60 puts an individual at greater risk.

Rarely, there can be genetic syndromes that run in families that put individuals at higher risk such as BRCA-2 and, to a lesser extent, BRCA-1 gene mutations. Familial syndromes are unusual but it is important to let your doctor know if anyone else in your family has been diagnosed with cancer.

Risk factors are characteristics, habits or environmental exposures that have been shown to increase the odds of developing a disease. You can decrease some of your general risks for all cancers by maintaining a healthy body weight, eating a healthy diet that is high in fruits and vegetables. Some risk factors that you cannot influence are your age, DNA and your family history. Not everyone who has one or more of these risk factors will develop pancreatic cancer.

What factors may increase your risk?

  • alcohol and cigarettesSmoking - if you smoke you may be two to three times more likely to get this disease.
  • Diet - a diet high in cholesterol, fried foods, red and processed meats may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. A diet high in fruits, vegetables and fibre may actually reduce your risk.
  • Alcohol - A daily drinking habit may modestly increase pancreatic cancer risk (22% higher) for individuals who had two or more drinks a day than for nondrinkers - read more.
  • Gender - the number of men and women who get pancreatic cancer is about equal.
  • Obesity - people who are significantly overweight are 20 times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer compared with those who are not.
  • Age - mostly affects people 55 years of age and older.
  • Race - individuals of African American and of Ashkenazi-Jewish heritage are 40-50% more likely to develop cancer of the pancreas than Caucasians. The reasons are not clear but genetics (BRCA-2 gene) and unknown factors may influence the likelihood in these races.
  • Medical Factors - the incidence of pancreatic cancer is higher in people who have or had the following medical conditions: Chronic pancreatitis (inflammation that causes irreversible damage) and long-standing diabetes (high blood sugar).
  • Environmental Factors - occupational exposure to some chemicals, such as pesticides, dyes, or chemicals related to gasoline, may increase the risk for pancreatic cancer.
  • Family History - pancreatic cancer may be inherited because it tends to run in families. 5 to 10% of pancreatic cancers result from hereditary factors and researchers believe that studying specific cancer genes may provide a better understanding of the causes of pancreatic cancer.

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