Main risk factors
The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age, as with many other cancers. In the UK, nearly half (47%) of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are aged over 75.
We know that smoking cigarettes and cigars can cause pancreatic cancer. It’s estimated that smoking causes nearly one in three pancreatic cancers (29%) in the UK. Your risk of pancreatic cancer increases the more you smoke, and the longer you have smoked for.
There’s no evidence at the moment about e-cigarettes and risk of pancreatic cancer.
Stopping smoking can reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer. Around 5–10 years after stopping, your risk may return to what it would be if you had never smoked.
Research shows that being overweight or obese increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. Around one in eight pancreatic cancers (12%) may be linked to being overweight or obese.
Researchers think that in the UK around one in six pancreatic cancer cases (16%) could be prevented if we all kept to a healthy weight.
Family history of pancreatic cancer
Occasionally, pancreatic cancer may run in a family. This isn’t common – it’s less than one in ten (10%) of pancreatic cancers. It includes:
- families with two or more first-degree relatives (parent, brother, sister or child) with pancreatic cancer
- families with three or more relatives with pancreatic cancer on the same side of the family
- families with a family cancer syndrome and at least one family member with pancreatic cancer. Family cancer syndromes are rare genetic conditions where a faulty gene increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.
Read more about family history of pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The main symptom is tummy (abdominal) pain that may come and go but can last for hours or days. Some people feel or are sick (nausea and vomiting) during the pain. Over time, people may get pain more often and it becomes more severe. Over many years, pancreatitis can start to cause other symptoms that are linked to problems digesting food. These can be similar to the diet symptoms caused by pancreatic cancer.
Hereditary pancreatitis is a rare type of pancreatitis that runs in families. It usually starts in childhood. People with hereditary pancreatitis have a much higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. The risk may be higher still for people who also smoke or have diabetes. The EUROPAC study is looking at hereditary pancreatitis to try to learn more about it.
Chronic pancreatitis is long-term pancreatitis. People with chronic pancreatitis have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
The NHS website has more information about pancreatitis, including the symptoms.
Diabetes is a condition where your blood sugar level isn’t properly controlled. Blood sugar level is controlled by a hormone called insulin, which is produced by the pancreas.
People with diabetes may have a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. But diabetes is common and most people with diabetes won’t get pancreatic cancer.
Diabetes can also be a symptom of pancreatic cancer. If you are over 60, have recently been diagnosed with diabetes, and have lost weight without any clear cause, speak to your GP. They should refer you for a scan within two weeks to check for any problems.
Other possible risk factors
Some research has suggested that the following things may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer. But we need more research into them.