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Family history of pancreatic cancer

Sometimes cancers are said to ‘run in the family’. This means there is a faulty gene in the family that is linked to a type of cancer, and can be passed down from a parent to a child. People in a family who carry the faulty gene have an increased risk of developing that particular type of cancer, but it doesn’t mean they will always develop it. This is known as inherited, hereditary or familial cancer, or family cancer syndrome.

What are genes?

Genes are the instructions that control our growth and how our bodies work. Genes come in pairs. We inherit one copy of each gene pair from our mother and the other from our father. We all have tiny changes in our genes, which make each person an individual. For example, genes determine the colour of our eyes and hair.

Occasionally, there may be changes in genes that mean that someone is more likely to get a disease. This type of change in a gene is often called a fault or mutation.

Changes in genes can be inherited from a parent, but sometimes changes can happen to genes during our lifetime. These changes are not inherited from our parents. They may be caused by a random mistake when a cell divides. Or they may be caused by other things, such as smoking. These are more common causes of cancer than inherited genetic faults. Read more about risk factors for pancreatic cancer.

Does pancreatic cancer run in families?

In most cases pancreatic cancer doesn’t run in families. However, a small number of rare genetic conditions are linked to a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. These are sometimes called family cancer syndromes. Up to one in ten (10%) pancreatic cancers may be caused by one of these conditions. They are rare, so if your family is affected you will probably know about it from family members who have already been diagnosed.

Click on the links below to find out more:

Hereditary pancreatic cancers

Is screening available for people with a family history of pancreatic cancer?

What should I do if I think I have a family history of pancreatic cancer?

European Registry of Hereditary Pancreatitis and Familial Pancreatic Cancer (EUROPAC)


 Information Standard

Published October 2015

Review date October 2017

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