Family history of pancreatic cancer

If you or a relative have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, you may be worried that other people in your family might be at risk of developing it.

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 type of cancer, but it doesn’t mean they will always develop it.

In most cases pancreatic cancer doesn’t run in families. However, a small number of rare genetic conditions are linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. These are sometimes called family cancer syndromes. Between 5 and 10 out of 100 pancreatic cancers (5-10%) 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.

What are genes?

Genes carry the information that controls our growth and how our bodies work. Genes come in pairs. We inherit one copy of each gene from our mother and the other from our father. We all have tiny changes in our genes that make us individual. For example, genes determine the colour of our eyes and hair.

Faulty genes

Occasionally, there may be changes in genes which 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. Changes to genes can also happen during our lifetime – these changes aren’t 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 much more common causes of cancer than inherited genetic faults. Read more about risk factors for pancreatic cancer.

A small number of genetic conditions are linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer

Read about genetic conditions that increase the risk of pancreatic cancer

Questions about family history?

If you have questions or worries about family history of pancreatic cancer, speak to your doctor.

You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line.

Speak to our nurses
Specialist nurse Rachel

Published August 2019

To be reviewed August 2021

References and Acknowledgements


References

Email us at publications@pancreaticcancer.org.uk for a list of sources used to write this information

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the following people who reviewed our information on family history.

  • Fiona Lolloo, Consultant Clinical Geneticist, Manchester Centre for Genomic Medicine, Manchester Universities Foundation Trust
  • Ian Frayling, Consultant in Genetic Pathology, on behalf of the UK Cancer Genetics Group
  • Ioannis Sarantitis, Surgical SpR and EUROPAC Research Fellow
  • Julian Barwell, Consultant in Clinical Genetics and Honorary Professor, University of Leicester.
  • Julie Hippisley-Cox, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology and General Practice, University of Nottingham
  • Niki Jervis, Patient Support Manager (RGN), NET Patient Foundation
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Information Volunteers
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Specialist Nurses