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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.

Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include the following:

Most cases of pancreatic cancer (about 85%) occur in people over the age of fifty. The average age at diagnosis is 65.

Chronic consumption of alcohol increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Some studies suggest that occupational exposure to certain chemicals may increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Chemicals that seem to be particularly associated with pancreatic cancer include those used in the petroleum and dry-cleaning industries, pesticides, and dyes.

Although some research has shown that people with diabetes have a two to three fold increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer, this finding is still under investigation.

A diet that is low in fiber and high in fat may increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Obesity also increases your risk.

Some families seem to have a genetic predisposition to develop certain types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer. If your mother, father, brother, or sister has had pancreatic cancer, you are three times as likely to develop the disease yourself. The presence of colon or ovarian cancer within your family also increases your risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

About 10% of pancreatic cancers are due to hereditary factors. The following hereditary conditions increase the risk of pancreatic cancer:

  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Familial multiple mole melanoma syndrome
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
  • Non-polyposis colorectal cancer syndrome
  • Familial breast cancer syndrome
  • Hereditary pancreatitis

If you’ve suffered from chronic pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas, you may have an increased chance of developing pancreatic cancer.

If you have a gastric resection in the past, your chance of developing pancreatic cancer is increased two to three fold.

Men are about twice as likely as women to develop pancreatic cancer.

Obesity, especially morbid obesity, increased the risk of pancreatic cancer.

If you suffer from pernicious anemia, your chance of developing pancreatic cancer increases.

African Americans have a greater risk—30%-40%—of developing pancreatic cancer than Caucasians. People of Hispanic origin or Asian Americans are less commonly affected.

Smoking and using smokeless tobacco (eg, chewing tobacco) is a clear risk factor for the development of pancreatic cancer. If you are a smoker, you are about three to four times as likely as a nonsmoker to develop this disease.


Detailed guide: pancreatic cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/. Accessed April 8, 2009.

DiMagno E. Pancreatic carcinoma. In: Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2000: 750-752.

Freelove R, Walling AD. Pancreatic cancer: diagnosis and management. Am Fam Physician. 2006;73:485-492.

What you need to know about cancer of the pancreas. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancerinfo/wyntk/pancreas#2. Accessed April 8, 2009.

9/23/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php: Boffetta P, Hecht S, Gray N, Gupta P, Straif K. Smokeless tobacco and cancer. Lancet Oncol. 2008;9:667-675.

Last reviewed September 2013 by Mohei Abouzied, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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