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Pancreatic cancer

Risk factors for pancreatic cancer

The two functions of the pancreas—making enzymes and hormones—are possible because of two different types of cells: exocrine cells, which produce the digestive enzymes, and endocrine cells, which produce the hormones.

Cancer may develop in either of these cell types, but about 95 percent of pancreatic cancers begin in the exocrine cells. The risk factors, symptoms and treatment of each type of pancreatic tumor may be different because the affected cells behave differently.

Known risk factors for pancreatic cancer include:


  • Age, with nearly 90 percent of all pancreatic cancers found in people aged 55 and older
  • Gender, with the cancer somewhat more common in men than women
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection


Smoking cigarettes: Almost one-third of all pancreatic cancers is linked to smoking cigarettes. Carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) found in tobacco products may damage the pancreas, and smoking may add to the risks associated with other conditions, like long-term inflammation of the pancreas (chronic pancreatitis). Likewise, the risk of diabetes and obesity may also be greater if an individual smokes.


About 10 percent of pancreatic cancers are thought to be related to genetic factors, meaning an inherited gene mutation is passed on from parents to their children. Although these genetic conditions do not directly cause pancreatic cancer, they may increase your risks for developing the disease.

The following genetic mutations are considered risk factors for pancreatic cancer:

  • Mutations in the gene PRSS1 (familial pancreatitis)
  • Mutations in the gene NF1 (neurofibromatosis, type 1)
  • Mutations in the gene BRCA2 (hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome)
  • Mutations in the gene p16 (familial melanoma)

Other inherited syndromes that may be linked to pancreatic cancer include:

  • Lynch Syndrome
  • Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome (PJS)
  • Von Hippel-Lindau Syndrome (VHL)
  • MEN1 (multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1) syndrome: A rare genetic disorder that may be a risk factor for malignant islet cell tumors