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Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors

The exact causes of pancreatic cancer are not known but it is thought that 37% of pancreatic cancer cases each year in the UK can be linked to major lifestyle and other risk factors.

  • Age


    • The greatest risk factors for pancreatic cancer is age. Over 90% of all diagnosed cases occur in men and women over the age of 50.
    • The median age of diagnosis is 72.
    • Ageing might well be a contributory factor but the condition does still occur at younger ages. In fact, it can often be missed in younger patients.
  • Smoking

    smokingSmoking causes nearly 1 in 3 of all pancreatic cancers:

    Cigarette smoking is the only confirmed environmental cause of pancreatic cancer.

    A study in 2011 estimated that around 29 per cent of UK pancreatic cancer cases were caused by smoking

    A study in 2006 looked at the risk of contracting pancreatic cancer in smokers versus never smokers in 82 independent studies from 1950 – 2007. They found that smokers have an increased risk of 74% of developing pancreatic cancer compared to those who have never smoked.

    A European-wide study in 2012 showed that risk increased by 27 per cent for every five cigarettes smoked per day

  • Dietary Factors

    dietaryPeople whose diets and are high in fat and with high meat content (especially processed meat) seem to be more at risk and obesity is a contributory factor.  That is the case for men and for women who carry most of their excess weight around the stomach, who, research suggests, are 70% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.

  • Associations and Predispositions

    assocOther conditions have been associated with or might predispose people to pancreatic cancer;

    • Chronic pancreatitis has been linked to pancreatic cancer but it might be as much the cause of pancreatitis which may be caused by excessive alcohol consumption, as the condition itself that is the problem. Nevertheless, the presence of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic chronic pancreatitis has been associated with ten to twenty times increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
    • Hereditary pancreatitis is also associated with a higher risk for pancreatic cancer.
    • Hereditary pancreatic cancer Sometimes pancreatic cancer is found to run in a family due to faulty genes. It is thought that hereditary pancreatic cancer makes up approx. 5-10% of all cases. There is currently no genetic test available specifically for pancreatic cancer.
      People with at least two first-degree relatives (mother, father, brother, sister) diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have almost double the risk of people without pancreatic cancer in their family of contracting the disease.
      Click here for more information on hereditary pancreatic cancer
  • Diabetes


    • New onset Type 2 diabetes (either diagnosed concomitantly with the cancer or within 2 years of diagnosis) has recently been identified to occur in up to 30% of patients and is something that can be detected in the presymptomatic phase.[i]
    • It is estimated that approx. 1% of diabetics over the age of 50 will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer within 3 years of “first meeting the criteria for diabetes.”[ii]
    • Particular attention should be made to a new-onset diabetic who doesn’t conform to that of a patient with a typical metabolic syndrome (i.e. weight gain).


    [i] Ben et al., (2011) The relationship between new-onset diabetes mellitus and pancreatic cancer risk: A case-control study. European Journal of Cancer 47 pp 248-254 and Pannala et al., (2009) New-onset diabetes: a potential clue to the early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Lancet Oncology 10 pp 88-95

    [ii] Chari et al., (2005) Probability of pancreatic cancer following diabetes: a population based study. Gastroenterology 129: 504-511

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