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What are the risk factors?

The causes of pancreatic cancer are not known, but research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. Factors that are known to increase the risk of getting pancreatic cancer include:

  • smoking tobacco (smokers are about twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer as nonsmokers)
  • obesity
  • ageing
  • eating too much red and processed meat
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • long-term diabetes (but diabetes can also be caused by the pancreatic cancer)
  • long-term pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • certain types of cysts in the pancreatic duct known as intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMNs) – these should be assessed by an appropriate specialist
  • stomach infections caused by the Helicobacter pylori bacteria (which can also cause stomach ulcers)
  • family history and inherited conditions
  • workplace exposure to certain pesticides, dyes or chemicals.

Having risk factors does not mean you will definitely get cancer, but talk to your doctor if you are concerned. Some people with pancreatic cancer have no known risk factors.

Does pancreatic cancer run in families?

Most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer do not have a family history of the disease. Only about 5–10% of people who develop pancreatic cancer have inherited a faulty gene that increases the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

You may have inherited a faulty gene linked to pancreatic cancer if:

  • two or more of your close family members (such as a parent or sibling) have had pancreatic cancer
  • there is a family history of a genetic condition, such as PeutzJeghers syndrome, the familial breast cancer genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2), familial atypical multiple mole melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome, Lynch syndrome and hereditary pancreatitis.

Genetic testing aims to find inherited faulty genes that may increase a person’s risk of developing some cancers. People with a strong family history of cancer can go to a family cancer clinic for genetic counselling and tests.

For more information about family history and pancreatic cancer, talk to your doctor or local family cancer clinic or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Featured resources

Pancreatic Cancer - Your best guide to cancer care

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Understanding Pancreatic Cancer

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed February 2022 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Benjamin Loveday, Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary (HPB) Surgeon, Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Katherine Allsopp, Palliative Medicine Physician, Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Hollie Bevans, Senior Dietitian, Radiotherapy and Oncology, Western Health, VIC; Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Head of Department Medical Oncology, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; Amanda Maxwell, Consumer; Prof Michael Michael, Medical Oncologist, Lower and Upper GI Oncology Service, Co-Chair Neuroendocrine Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and University of Melbourne, VIC; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Meg Rogers, Nurse Consultant Upper GI/NET Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Ady Sipthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.