What are the risk factors for pancreatic cancer?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
The following are some risk factors for pancreatic cancer:

  • Two or More Family Members Diagnosed With Pancreatic, Breast, Colon or Ovarian Cancer: Family history is an important risk factor since up to 10% of pancreatic cancers are inherited. Some genes associated with breast, colon and ovarian cancer, such as the breast cancer 2 susceptibility protein (BRCA2), may also put you at higher risk. If you have family members with a history of these diseases, particularly if they were diagnosed under the age of 50, consult your doctor, who may recommend seeing a genetic counselor.
  • Drinking More Than 1 Alcoholic Beverage a Day or More Than 2 Sodas Per Week: Chronic alcohol consumption -- more than one drink a day for women and more than two drinks a day for men over an extended period of time -- increases inflammation and can cause pancreatitis, which can lead to genetic damage of cells. Studies also show that people who drink two or more soft drinks per week also have an increased risk.
  • Type-2 Diabetes: Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not adequately produce or use insulin, a hormone normally made by the pancreas. Insulin helps the body utilize glucose (sugar), allowing glucose to enter cells and be used for energy. With diabetes, you see abnormal growth of insulin, which can lead to abnormal cell growth. Additionally, in people with diabetes, the glucose remains in the blood, resulting in high blood glucose levels, which can cause cell damage and long-term complications. Research shows that diabetes can either be a risk factor or symptom of pancreatic cancer. Most of the risk is found in people with type-2 diabetes; this type of diabetes most often starts in adulthood. If you have diabetes and you're also at high risk for pancreatic cancer in terms of family history, inform your doctor who may want to do some blood or genetic testing.

This content originally appeared on
The risk factors for pancreatic cancer are:
  • Smoking
  • Long-standing diabetes.
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer, or familial pancreatitis.
  • Pancreatitis – an inflammation of the pancreas which may be either acute or chronic, and may be hereditary.
  • Rare genetic conditions, including von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, Peutz-Jehgers syndrome, hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer, ataxia-telangiectasia, early-onset familial breast cancer syndrome due to BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations, and familial atypical multiple mole melanoma (FAMM) syndrome.
  • Race: African Americans are more likely to get this disease worldwide.
  • Diet high in meat and fat.
  • Age – most patients are diagnosed between the ages of 60 and 80, except those with a family history of pancreatic cancer, who are generally diagnosed earlier.
  • Occupational or environmental exposure to carcinogens, such as pesticides, dyes or gasoline-related chemicals.
  • Certain types of pancreatic cysts.
There are many risk factors present to develop pancreatic cancer. Here are a few:
Chronic Pancreatitis, Heriditary Mutations in BRCA (Breast Cancer), Diabetes & Insulin Resistance, Smoking, High Fat Diet, Obesity & Lack of Exercise, Partial Gastrectomy, Hepatitis-B.

Beneficial Factors: Plenty of Exercise, Low fat diet, & Quitting smoking.

Unknown Factors: Coffee & Alcohol as data obscured by concurrent smoking.
John A. Chabot
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism

Certain personal, environmental, health, and inherited risk factors have been identified that increase the chances of a person developing the disease.

Personal Risk Factors

  • Age: The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases after age 50. Most patients are between the ages of 60 and 80 at the time of diagnosis.
  • Ethnicity: There is higher incidence of pancreatic cancer in Ashkenazi Jews, probably due to common genetic mutations present in at least 1% of individuals of this background. African Americans are also more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than are Asians, Hispanics, and Caucasians. The reasons for this discrepancy are not known.

Environmental Risk Factors

  • Cigarette Smoking: About 30% of pancreatic cancer cases are thought to be a direct result of cigarette smoking. People who smoke cigarettes are twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer as people who do not smoke cigarettes.

Health Risk Factors

  • Chronic Pancreatitis: Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. People diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Chronic pancreatitis is a condition that can strike people of any age. It is typically diagnosed in people who are 35-45 years old. It can be due to a number of factors including hereditary (genetic) pancreatitis, malformation of pancreas ducts, trauma to pancreas,excessive alcohol abuse for many years, or the passage of gall stones. 
  • Diabetes: Pancreatic cancer is two times more likely to occur in people who have diabetes than in people who do not have diabetes. However, the relationship between diabetes and pancreatic cancer is still not completely understood.
  • Weight: The body mass index (BMI) is a statistical measure calculated based on a person's height and weight. A person with a BMI above 25 is considered overweight and this can increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Inherited Risk Factors

  • Inherited Risk: Up to 15% of pancreatic cancer is related to a family history of the disease. The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases by two to three times if a person's mother, father, sibling, or child had pancreatic cancer. The risk multiplies if a greater number of family members are affected. There are several inherited gene mutations that have been linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer including the genes responsible for breast and ovarian cancer, and melanoma.


Continue Learning about Pancreatic Cancer Causes & Risk Factors

What gene mutations increase my risk of pancreatic cancer?
John A. ChabotJohn A. Chabot
The below conditions are currently linked to pancreatic cancer: - Breast and Ovarian Cancer BRCA1...
More Answers
How does cigarette smoking contribute to pancreatic cancer?
Beth A. Schrope, MDBeth A. Schrope, MD
About 30% of pancreatic cancer cases are thought to be a direct result of cigarette smoking. People ...
More Answers
What causes stage 0 pancreatic cancer?
Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
Like many cancers, the exact cause or causes of pancreatic cancer are unknown. Cancer cells are the ...
More Answers
Can sugary drinks increase risk of pancreatic cancer?
People who add sugar to coffee or tea may run a higher risk of developing cancer of the pancreas. Th...
More Answers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.