Pancreatic Cancer Causes and Risk Factors

Pancreatic Cancer Causes and Risk Factors


What Are the Reasons for Pancreatic Cancer?

We’ll start by pointing out that scientists, actually, haven’t found exact causes of pancreatic cancers. However, some risk factors that make a person be more prone to the disease have been figured out. Some of such like risk factors can have a very bad impact on DNA and, consequently, lead to the development of tumors and growth of abnormal cells inside your organism.

DNA is a particular chemical in our cells where all our genes with information from our parents are to be found. These genes define the way our calls function. Everything is quite simple – we take after our parents since they are the people who gave us our DNA. Still, it’s important to understand that DNA has a bigger influence on us apart from just defining the way we look.

There are genes the main task of which is to keep the growth of our cells as well as their division into new cells and the time they die under control.

There are the following genes:

  • Oncogenes – they are the genes that are irreplaceable when it comes to the growth and division of the cells. They also maintain the life of the cells.
  • Tumor suppressor genes – are the ones that keep an eye on the process of division. They also fix and get rid of mistakes in DNA and make certain cells die when it’s needed.

One of the things that leads to cancers are changes that take place in DNA. This can mean one of the following: either gene mutations put into action Oncogenes or the functioning of tumor suppressor genes has been stopped.

Gene Mutations that We Inherit From our Parents

Here, 2 scenarios are possible. The changing of the genes may be inherited from parents, consequently, there is a bigger risk of you having pancreatic cancer in future. There are cases when gene mutations occur as part of a syndrome that, as well, may cause other health problems. You’ll find out more about the syndromes mentioned later when we’ll speak about pancreatic cancer and its risk factors.

Anything that can in any way increase your chances of having a disease, in our case it’s cancer, is considered to be a risk factor. It should be underlined that each type of cancer has its own risk factors. Still, there are some risk factors that can be totally under your control. Smoking is one of them. On the contrary, you’re unable to do anything with your age and family history.

You are not to forget that if you have a risk factor or even several risk factors, it doesn’t mean that you’ll definitely be ill with the disease. As amazing as it may be, but there are lots of people diagnosed with cancer irrespective of the fact that they have few not so dangerous risk factors or risk factors that are unknown.

There exist some risk factors that can considerably add to a person’s chance of getting pancreatic cancer. The majority of them refer to exocrine pancreatic cancer.

Risk Factors that You Are Able to Keep Under Control

Risk Factors and Causes for Pancreatic Cancer


If you have this addiction and have no desire to fight it, note that the risk of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is twice as high in comparison to people who have never had a cigarette. The truth is that approximately in 20-30% of cases exactly smoking is considered to be the reason for pancreatic cancer. It doesn’t even matter whether you use smokeless tobacco products or cigars and pipes. All of them are equally dangerous.

Being Overweight and Suffering From Obesity

Paying no attention to your weight can be quite dangerous and, for sure, is no good to your health. People who suffer from a very severe case of obesity are 20% more prone to having pancreatic cancer.

Sometimes it so happens that even those people who seem to keep control over their weight and have only little extra weight can fall victim to the disease.

Being Constantly Exposed to Particular Chemicals at Work

There are certain chemicals that are used in dry cleaning and metal working that can be truly dangerous and lead to pancreatic cancer as a result if you work with them too often.

Risk Factors You Bear No Responsibility for

Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors and Causes

Your Age

As you become older, your risk of having pancreatic cancer goes up as well. Let’s get straight to numbers: usually, all patients are at least 45, two thirds of all patients are 65. On average, the diagnosis is made when a patient is 71.


Despite the fact that women nowadays smoke no less than men (maybe, even more), men are more prone to developing the disease. However, even now there exist an opinion that this is due to men still smoking more.


Afro-Americans have a bit higher risk of getting the disease than Europeans. You may wonder why but, actually, it’s quite simple. It depends partly on the fact that to some degree Afro-Americans have higher chances for such risk factors as smoking in men, diabetes and women obesity.

Cases of Pancreatic Cancer in a Patient’s Family

Sometimes, pancreatic cancer is as if “passed on from one member of the family to another”. The crux of the matter here is inherited syndrome, which will be described below. There are cases when it’s impossible to define the gene that increases the risk of having the disease. At the same time, note that even though we included family history in the list of risk factors, a patient is not necessarily to have it.

Inherited Genetic Syndromes

A child may get gene mutations from his or her mother. The changes are a reason for at least 10% of pancreatic cancer cases. Sometimes, the mutations can even lead to other dangerous syndromes or health problems.

Below you’ll find some genetic syndromes that lead to exocrine pancreatic cancer:

  • Inherited breast and ovarian syndromes that occur because of mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
  • FAMMM or familial atypical multiple mole syndrome when mutations occur in the p16/CDKN2A gene.
  • Familial pancreatitis where it comes down to mutations of the PRSS1 gene.
  • Lynch syndrome which is also referred to as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) when, usually, there is abnormality detected in the MLH1 or MLH2 genes.
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome that implies abnormalities in the STK1 gene. It is the syndrome that has to do with polyps appearing on the digestive tract and some other cancers as well.
  • Von Hippel-Landau syndrome when the cause involves mutations in the VHL gene. It may result in you having an increased risk of pancreatic cancer and carcinoma of the ampulla of Vater.

The following genetic syndromes can as well serve as a reason for pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors and related cancers:

  • Type 1 Neurofibromatosis. It’s common for the syndrome to be caused by mutations taking place in the NF1 gene. As a result, you may have an increased risk of developing lots of tumors, somatostatinomas included.
  • Type I Multiple endocrine neoplasia or MEN1. The key point here is mutation in the MEN1 gene. The syndrome can result in increased risk of having tumors of the parathyroid and pituitary glands and cells of the pancreas being islet.

You can find out if there is any changing going in the genes by undergoing necessary tests. If you want to read more about genetic testing, read the article on “Is it possible to detect pancreatic cancer on an early stage?”.


It’s not a secret that people with diabetes face pancreatic cancer more often. There is no answer why it so happens. Very often, people who have type 2 diabetes are more likely to have the disease. The thing is that this type of diabetes begins in adulthood and is often connected with the fact that the patient is suffering from obesity. It can’t be said for sure if those who have type 1 diabetes, also called “juvenile”, have even higher risk.

Chronic Pancreatitis

Pancreas inflammation that goes on a long-term basis has a certain connection with the risk of having pancreatic cancer. This is especially true for those who smoke. However, in the majority of cases, people diagnosed with pancreatitis never have pancreatic cancer.

Sometimes, it so happens that chronic pancreatitis occurs because of a hereditary gene syndrome. Of course, those who are genetically prone to pancreatitis have a rather high risk of having pancreatic cancer during their lifetime.

Liver Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis means that there are scars on your liver. People whose liver is a subject to a certain severe damage from hepatitis or alcohol (if a person develops an unhealthy addiction to it) are quite likely to get it. Consequently, they have a bigger risk of having pancreatic cancer.

Having Problems With Stomach

If your stomach has been infected with the ulcer-causing bacteria Helicobacter pylori, you will probably have a higher risk of getting the disease. According to the researches’ data, there is a possibility of excess stomach acid also adding to the risk.

Factors that Seem to Have No Direct Effect on the Risk

Pancreatic Cancer: Causes and Risk Factors

Sticking to a Diet

In several studies there has been suggested that pancreatic cancer has to do with being on a diet that involves eating much red and processed meats (for instance, bacon) and too little fruits and vegetables. However, this field is still being studied since such connection wasn’t found absolutely in all studies.

Being Physically Inactive

Even though there are many researches that haven’t proved it, some researches claim that the reason for pancreatic cancer lies in the fact that patients are not enough physically active.


Researches carried out long ago had a suggestion that drinking coffee too much increases the risk. However, studies that have been carried out lately found no confirmation to it.


According to some researches, there is a strong connection between being an alcohol addict and pancreatic cancer. Whether it is, there is still no certain answer. At the same time, we can’t deny that drinking too much alcohol results in such health problems as chronic pancreatitis and cirrhosis that, in turn, increase the risk of having pancreatic cancer.

Gene Mutations that Can Be Acquired

Gene defects that are connected with pancreatic cancers as a rule occur only after a person is born. They are not likely to be inherited. Such like mutations are acquired and occur due to being too often exposed to dangerous chemicals, for example, the ones that were found in cigarette smoke. However, very often, the true cause of the changes stays unrevealed. There is a number of changes that are more likely to occur just because of several random events taking place inside of a cell. Sometimes, there is simply no influence from the outside.

Sometimes, changes happening in the DNA in case of not inherited and inherited pancreatic cancer cases are similar. Sometimes, they are obviously different. Let’s say, for example, that there are many sporadic cases of exocrine pancreatic cancer where the defects are detected in the p16 and TP53 genes. The same defects can be detected if you’re dealing with a genetic syndrome. However, the point is that lots of pancreatic cancers caused by the changes in the KRAS, BRAF and DPC4 (SMAD4) genes are not included in the group of inherited syndromes. Apart from the gene mutations already mentioned, there may be other ones that also lead to pancreatic cancer. The main thing about them, is that the reason may be hard to find.

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