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
    Cigarette smoke contains a large number of carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals). Therefore, it is not surprising that cigarette smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer. For example, smoking during college has been associated with a 2-3 fold increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
  2. Age
    The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. Over 80% of the cases develop between the ages of 60 and 80.
  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. This may be, in part, because men are more likely to smoke than women.
  5. Religious Background
    Pancreatic cancer is proportionally more common in 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 Jewish families.
  6. Chronic pancreatitis
    Long-term inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) has been linked to cancer of the pancreas. The reason for this association is not clear, but it is greatest in patients with inherited chronic pancreatitis.
  7. Diabetes
    Diabetes Mellitus (also known as sugar diabetes) is a disease in which the body does not produce adequate amounts of insulin. Insulin is a hormone normally made by the pancreas. Insulin helps the body convert sugars and starches into energy (see http://www.diabetes.org/). Diabetes has been linked to pancreatic cancer. Diabetes appears to be both a symptom of pancreatic cancer, and long-standing adult-onset diabetes may also increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Recent studies have shown that 1% of patients diagnosed with diabetes after the age of 50 years will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer within 3 years of their diagnosis of diabetes (Link here to PubMed- Probability of pancreatic cancer following diabetes: a population-based study.Gastroenterology. 2005 Aug;129(2):504-11. PMID: 16083707 ). Although prelimminary, studies such as these suggest that new onset diabetes in a person over the age of 50 may be an early warning sign of pancreatic cancer.
  8. Peptic ulcer surgery
    Patients who have had a portion of their stomach removed (partial gastrectomy) appear to have an increased risk for developing pancreatic cancer.
  9. Diet
    Diets high in meats, cholesterol fried foods and nitrosamines may increase the risk, while diets high in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer.

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