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A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. However, knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.
The following factors may raise a person’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer:
Age. The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. Most people who develop pancreatic cancer are older than 45; 90% are older than 55 and 70% are older than 65. However, adults of any age can be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Gender. More men are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer than women (see Statistics).
Race/ethnicity. Black people are more likely than Asian, Hispanic, or white people to develop pancreatic cancer. People of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage are also more likely to develop pancreatic cancer (see Family history, below).
Smoking. Smokers are two to three times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than nonsmokers.
Obesity and diet. Regularly eating foods high in fat is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Research has shown that obese and even overweight men and women have a higher risk of dying from pancreatic cancer.
Diabetes. A sudden onset of type 2 diabetes can be an early symptom of pancreatic cancer. Whether diabetes itself is a risk factor for the development of pancreatic cancer has been a topic of great interest for many years with large studies reaching different conclusions. It is now believed that long-term diabetes does increase a person’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
Family history. A person with a first-degree relative (mother, father, sister, or brother) who developed pancreatic cancer is three times more likely to also develop the disease. That risk increases if more first-degree relatives have the disease. Also, melanoma that runs in families and certain hereditary forms of colon, breast, and ovarian cancers are associated with an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Several treatment centers are developing pancreatic cancer registries to learn more about the role of family history. Read more about the genetic conditions that increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
Chronic pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, a painful pancreatic disease. Some research suggests that having chronic pancreatitis may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
Hereditary pancreatitis. Hereditary pancreatitis (HP) is a condition associated with recurrent pancreatitis and an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. Learn more about hereditary pancreatitis.
Chemicals. Exposure to certain chemicals (such as pesticides, benzene, certain dyes, and petrochemicals) may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
Hepatitis B infection. Hepatitis viruses are viruses that infect the liver. One study has shown that a previous hepatitis B infection was twice as common in people with pancreatic cancer than in people without the cancer. More research is needed to learn more about this link.