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Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer

A risk factor is something that increases your chances of developing cancer.

It is possible to develop pancreatic cancer with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Some factors cannot be controlled, such as age, gender, or ethnicity. In general, risk increases for people over 50 years old. However, most people with pancreatic cancer are over 65 years old. Risk is nearly the same in men as in women. Other factors that may increase the chance of pancreatic cancer include:


Smoking is highly associated with pancreatic cancer. Smoking affects every cell in the body. Regular exposure to smoke and carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) cause irritation and damage to pancreatic cells. Irritation and damage can alter the DNA of the cells, increasing the rate of cellular turnover. The risk of pancreatic cancer increases with the number of years as a smoker and the number of cigarettes smoked. Smoking includes other forms of tobacco, including pipes, cigars, and smokeless.

Medical or Surgical History

People with current or a history of the following may have a higher risk of pancreatic cancer:

Excessive alcohol intake (more than 3 drinks a day) may not affect your risk alone. However, alcohol use increases the risk of or worsens health conditions, which in turn, increases pancreatic cancer risk. Talk to your doctor if you are having trouble controlling how much you drink.

Genetic and Family History

Genetic mutations can be present at birth, while others may appear later in life. Pancreatic cancer is associated with different genetic syndromes. These include:

  • Familial multiple mole melanoma syndrome—associated with skin cancer
  • Lynch syndrome—genetic defect associated with colon cancer
  • Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome—associated with BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes
  • Familial pancreatitis
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome—rare, but associated with cellular changes in the digestive tract

Pancreatic cancer, like many other types, tends to run in families. Having an immediate family member with a history of pancreatic cancer increases increases your risk of developing it yourself. The presence of colon or ovarian cancer within your family also affects pancreatic cancer risk.

Race and Ethnicity

African Americans have a greater risk of developing pancreatic cancer than Caucasians. People of Hispanic or Asian descent are less commonly affected.

Revision Information

  • Boffetta P, Hecht S, Gray N, Gupta P, Straif K. Smokeless tobacco and cancer. Lancet Oncol. 2008;9(7):667-675.

  • General information about pancreatic cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated December 23, 2016. Accessed March 15, 2017.

  • Pancreatic cancer risk factors. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Updated May 31, 2016. Accessed March 15, 2017.

  • Pancreatic cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated July 6, 2016. Accessed March 15, 2017.

  • Pancreatic cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated January 2017. Accessed March 15, 2017.

The health information in this Health Library is provided by a third party. Parkridge Health System does not in any way create the content of this information. It is provided solely for informational purposes. It does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for proper medical care provided by a physician. Always consult with your doctor for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing, and care recommendations. Do not rely on information on this site as a tool for self-diagnosis. If you have a medical emergency, call 911.