Causes and risk factors
The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown, though there are risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing this type of cancer. Just because someone has a risk factor does not mean they will have cancer, and not having a risk factor does not mean they will not develop cancer.
The risk of pancreatic cancer increases with age. It mainly affects middle-aged people and is rare in young people. Most people who develop pancreatic cancer are 65 or older.
The chances of developing pancreatic cancer increase when a person smokes, especially in heavy smokers.
Eating large quantities of red and processed meats (such as sausages and hamburgers) may increase the risk. Diets consisting of a regular, high intake of fats and sugars and little fresh fruit and vegetables may also increase the risk.
Drinking alcohol in moderation does not affect the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. However, frequent and heavy alcohol consumption may increase the risk, especially in people who smoke.
Bodyweight and physical activity
Some studies have found that being overweight and a lack of physical activity can increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
People who have a disease called chronic pancreatitis, where the pancreas is inflamed for a long period of time, are more prone to developing pancreatic cancer. The risk is greater for people who have chronic pancreatitis due to a rare hereditary disease called hereditary pancreatitis.
Most people who develop pancreatic cancer have no family history of the disease. However, about 5-10 out of every 100 cases may be related to a hereditary predisposition. If two or more people on the same side of the family have pancreatic cancer, this may be sign that the family is at greater risk.
People who have the faulty breast cancer gene BRCA2 or Lynch syndrome may have a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
People with Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (PJS) have a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. PJS is a condition that cause polyps in the digestive tract and dark spots on the skin that covers the face and hands.