Pacific Cancer Programs

Pancreatic Cancer

Who's At Risk?

No one knows the exact causes of pancreatic cancer. Doctors can seldom explain why one person gets pancreatic cancer and another does not. However, it is clear that this disease is not contagious. No one can "catch" cancer from another person.

Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop pancreatic cancer. A risk factor is anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease.

Studies have found the following risk factors:

  • Age -The likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. Most pancreatic cancers occur in people over the age of 60.
  • Smoking - Cigarette smokers are two or three times more likely than nonsmokers to develop pancreatic cancer.
  • Diabetes - Pancreatic cancer occurs more often in people who have diabetes than in people who do not.
  • Being male - More men than women are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
  • Being African American - African Americans are more likely than Asians, Hispanics, or whites to get pancreatic cancer.
  • Family history - The risk for developing pancreatic cancer triples if a person's mother, father, sister, or brother had the disease. Also, a family history of colon or ovarian cancer increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • Chronic pancreatitis -- Chronic pancreatitis is a painful condition of the pancreas. Some evidence suggests that chronic pancreatitis may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Other studies suggest that exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace or a diet high in fat may increase the chance of getting pancreatic cancer.

Most people with known risk factors do not get pancreatic cancer. On the other hand, many who do get the disease have none of these factors. People who think they may be at risk for pancreatic cancer should discuss this concern with their doctor. The doctor may suggest ways to reduce the risk and can plan an appropriate schedule for checkups.

Acknowledgment: This text is adapted from the NCI website.

Resources

National Cancer Institute (NCI)

Details, including medically graphic images, can be found at this website as well as up-to-date information for patients and practitioners about pancreatic cancer.

American Cancer Society (ACS)

ACS is the nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer, through research, education, advocacy, and service.

Online Tools

Siteman Cancer Center: Pancreatic Cancer Risk Questionnaire

To estimate your risk of pancreatic cancer and learn about ways to lower that risk, take a few minutes to answer some questions about your health, background, and lifestyle.

MedlinePlus - Pacreatic Cancer Link

MedlinePlus will direct you to information to help answer health questions. MedlinePlus brings together authoritative information from NLM, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other government agencies and health-related organizations. MedlinePlus also has extensive information about drugs, an illustrated medical encyclopedia, interactive patient tutorials, and latest health news.

Printed Materials to Download

ASCO Answers: Pancreatic Cancer

ASCO Answers offers an overview of what the cancer is, an illustration of where the cancer starts, how it is treated, terms to know, and questions to ask the doctor.

"What You Need To Know About Pancreatic Cancer"

This NCI booklet informs you about possible causes, screening, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and supportive care for pancreatic cancer. You will also find ideas about how to cope with the disease.

  • Download the PDF file (NCI 2006, 44 pages): (pdf 1.3 MB).

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