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About 7,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK each year. We don't know what causes it to develop, but research into this is ongoing. Like all cancers, pancreatic cancer isn’t infectious and can’t be passed on to other people.
Things that can increase your risk of developing a disease are called risk factors. Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include: age, smoking, diet and bodyweight, a condition called chronic pancreatitis, diabetes, and inherited faulty genes. Most pancreatic cancers happen by chance and don’t run in families.
As people get older, their risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases. It mainly affects people in middle and old age and is rare in younger people. About 3 out of 4 people who develop pancreatic cancer (75%) are 65 or older.
About 1 in 5 pancreatic cancers in the UK (20%) may be due to smoking. People who chew tobacco are also at an increased risk.
A diet that contains large amounts of red or processed meat may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Processed meats include ham, sausages, bacon and burger patties. Regularly eating a diet that is high in fat and sugar and low in fresh fruit and vegetables may also increase the risk.
Drinking alcohol in moderation doesn’t affect the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, but drinking large amounts of alcohol regularly may increase the risk, especially in people who smoke.
Some studies have found that being very overweight and being physically inactive may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
People who have a condition called chronic pancreatitis, in which the pancreas is inflamed, tender and swollen over a long period of time, are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. The risk of developing pancreatic cancer is highest for people who have chronic pancreatitis due to a rare inherited condition called hereditary pancreatitis.
Having diabetes increases the risk of developing cancer of the pancreas. But, diabetes is common and the vast majority of people with diabetes won’t develop pancreatic cancer.
Most cancers of the pancreas are not caused by an inherited faulty gene, and so members of your family are very unlikely to be at an increased risk of pancreatic cancer because you have it.
Most people who develop pancreatic cancer have no previous family history of the condition. However, about 5-10 out of every 100 cases of pancreatic cancer (5-10%) may be linked to faulty genes that can run in families. If two or more people on the same side of a family have pancreatic cancer, this may be a sign that other people in the family are at an increased risk too.
There are a number of different gene changes that can increase your risk of developing cancer of the pancreas. These include:
Content last reviewed: 1 December 2010
Next planned review: 2013
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