Presse Santé

Pancreatic cancer: these factors that increase the risk

A mix of genes and environmental risk factors contribute to this often deadly form of cancer.

Medical experts don’t know exactly why people get pancreatic cancer, but they have made progress in understanding the biological basis of the disease and the factors that increase the risk of developing it. Like other forms of cancer, pancreatic cancer results from changes (mutations) in the DNA of certain cells of the pancreas. These genetic mutations instruct cells to multiply wildly and form malignant tumors.

Is pancreatic cancer hereditary?

Researchers estimate that in about 10% of cases the answer is yes. Genetic mutations that increase susceptibility to disease are passed from parent to child. A 2018 study identified six genes with an association with pancreatic cancer. In this study, genes were identified at a higher rate in people with a family history of the disease. Pancreatic cancer can also be the result of genetic mutations that occur throughout life, for various reasons related to environmental exposures or lifestyle, such as smoking.
For many patients, the cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown. The researchers believe that the trigger for the disease may be a random event that occurs spontaneously in cells.

What increases the risk of pancreatic cancer?

In the general population, a person has an average chance of developing pancreatic cancer.

But there are a number of factors that can increase the odds:


The older you are, the more likely you are to develop pancreatic cancer. About 90% of people with the disease are over 55 years old and 70% are over 65 years old. But younger people can also get pancreatic cancer.


Men are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than women.


Smokers have twice the risk of pancreatic cancer than non-smokers; approximately 20-30% of pancreatic cancers are associated with smoking. Cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco products can also cause problems.

obesity and diet

Obese people have about a 20% increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Overweight (but not obese) men and women are also at higher risk, especially if they carry extra pounds around their waist. Although the link between pancreatic cancer and diet needs more research, some studies have linked the disease to a high intake of fatty foods or a diet high in red or processed meats (such as hot dogs) and low in fruits and vegetables.


There is a significant amount of evidence linking diabetes to pancreatic cancer, especially in people who have had the condition for many years. Sudden onset of diabetes can also be a symptom of pancreatic cancer.

Family history

Pancreatic cancer can run in families, most likely due to common gene mutations. This condition, called familial pancreatic cancer (FPC), accounts for about 10% of all cases. A family is considered to have PFC if two or more first-degree relatives (parents, children, siblings) have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, or if three or more close relatives on the same side of the family have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Chronic pancreatitis

This painful inflammation of the pancreas, which can be caused by alcohol abuse, has been linked to pancreatic cancer.

rare hereditary conditions

These are hereditary pancreatitis, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, familial malignant melanoma and pancreatic cancer, hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, and Lynch syndrome.

chemicals in the workplace

Chemicals used for dry cleaning and metalworking are especially dangerous.


A common bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) causes inflammation and ulcers in the stomach and may also, to a lesser extent, increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Hepatitis B virus infection

There is some evidence linking the virus to pancreatic cancer, although more research is needed.


This disease, often caused by alcohol abuse, develops when damage to liver cells leads to the formation of scar tissue. (5)

Can pancreatic cancer be prevented?

Researchers are working to develop reliable screening tests to detect pancreatic cancer at its earliest stages, when it is most treatable. The hope is to identify indicators of the disease, also called biomarkers, that would be detectable by a blood test or analysis of another substance in the body. Until such tests become available, people who are at high risk—due to inherited mutations, for example, or rare genetic diseases—can participate in experimental screening programs that use various imaging methods, such as endoscopic ultrasound and computed tomography.

But while risk factors like family history can’t be changed, there are a number of things anyone can do to minimize their chances of developing pancreatic cancer:

– Do not smoke. This is the single most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer.

– Keep a healthy weight. To help achieve this goal, eat a healthy diet that emphasizes plant foods and includes at least 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables a day. The guidelines for the prevention of cancer recommend that you choose pains, patties and cereals, whole grains and refined grains, and the option for pour le poisson, la volaille or les haricots plutôt que pour la viande transformedée et la Red meat.

– Limit alcohol. Some (but not all) studies have linked heavy alcohol use to pancreatic cancer.

– Avoid hazardous chemicals in the workplace. Minimize your exposure to chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer.

* Presse Santé strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information provided can not replace the advice of a health professional.

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