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What are the risk factors?

Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. Known risk factors include:

  • smoking (cigarette smokers are about twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer as non-smokers)
  • obesity
  • ageing
  • type 2 diabetes
  • pancreatitis (long-term 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
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • family history and inherited conditions
  • workplace exposure to some pesticides, dyes or chemicals.

How important are genetic factors?

Most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer do not have a family history of the disease. About one in 10 people who develop pancreatic cancer have an inherited faulty gene that increases the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

You may have an inherited faulty gene 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.

Some pancreatic NETs are caused by a rare inherited syndrome, such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1), neurofibromatosis (NF-1), Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease or tuberous sclerosis.

Genetic testing aims to detect faulty genes that may increase a person’s risk of developing some cancers. People with a strong family history of cancer can attend a family cancer clinic for genetic counselling and tests. For more information, talk to your doctor, local family cancer centre or Cancer Council 13 11 20.

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Understanding Pancreatic Cancer

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed February 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Head of Department, Medical Oncology, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; Marion Bamblett, Nurse Unit Manager, Cancer Centre, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Prof Katherine Clark, Clinical Director of Palliative Care, Northern Sydney Local Health District Cancer and Palliative Care Network, and Conjoint Professor, Northern Clinical School, The University of Sydney, NSW; Lynda Dunstone, Consumer; Kate Graham, Accredited Practising Dietitian – Upper GI Dietitian, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Gina Hesselberg, Radiation Oncologist, St George Hospital Cancer Centre, NSW; Dr Marni Nenke, Endocrinologist and Mary Overton Early Career Research Fellow, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; A/Prof Nicholas O’Rourke, Head of Hepatobiliary Surgery, Royal Brisbane Hospital and The University of Queensland, QLD; Rose Rocca, Senior Clinical Dietitian – Upper GI, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Gail Smith, Consumer.