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Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer

A risk factor makes the chances of getting a disease or health problem higher. You can have pancreatic cancer with or without them. But the more you have, the greater the chances this type of cancer can start.
Some risks can't be changed, such as your age. The risk gets higher for people over 50 years old. But, most people with this type of cancer are over 65 years old. Risk is nearly the same in men as in women.
Your chances are also higher for:


Smoke and cancer-causing agents harm the pancreas. This can change the how the cells work, which can make the turnover rate higher. The risk goes higher with the number of years as a smoker and the number of cigarettes smoked. Smoking counts for all forms such as pipes, cigars, and smokeless types.

Past Health Issues

Your chances of pancreatic cancer are higher for:
Drinking more than 3 drinks a day may not change your risk by itself. But, alcohol use raises the risk of, or worsens health problems. This, in turn, makes the risk of pancreatic cancer higher. Talk to your doctor if you are having trouble controlling how much you drink.

Genes and Your Family

Problems with your genes can be there when you’re born. Others may appear later in life. Pancreatic cancer is linked to many genetic syndromes. These are:
  • Familial multiple mole melanoma syndrome—linked to skin cancer
  • Lynch syndrome—linked to colon cancer
  • Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome—linked to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes
  • Familial pancreatitis
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome—rare, but linked to changes in the digestive tract
Having someone in your family with pancreatic cancer makes your risk higher. Having other cancer types within your family also changes your risk.

Race and Ethnicity

Blacks have a higher risk of pancreatic cancer than Whites. But, it's less common in those who are Hispanic or Asian.


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 May 23, 2018. Accessed October 25, 2018.
Pancreatic cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated August 31, 2018. Accessed October 25, 2018.
Pancreatic cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated October 2017. Accessed October 25, 2018.
Pancreatic cancer: Risk factors. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: Updated April 6, 2018. Accessed October 25, 2018.
Pancreatic cancer risk factors. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Updated May 31, 2016. Accessed October 25, 2018.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
  • Review Date: 09/2018
  • Update Date: 10/25/2018
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