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Pancreatic Cancer

Most scientists agree that these things affect the risk of pancreatic cancer. Some may apply to you, but others may not.

Age

The risk of pancreatic cancer goes up with age. The disease is rare in people under 45, and the average age when the disease is found is 72.

Sex

Men have a greater risk of pancreatic cancer than women. This difference, though, is getting smaller over time in the United States. This may be related to cancer risk factors, like smoking, that are becoming more common in women.

Height

Tall people have a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. Researchers don’t know exactly why, but it may be related to the fact that tall people grow more. Some of the same hormones and other factors that make people grow may also increase the chance that dividing cells become abnormal and turn cancerous.

Weight

People who maintain a healthy weight have a lower risk of pancreatic cancer. One reason may be that being overweight or obese can lead to blood sugar problems. And blood sugar problems like diabetes have been shown to increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.

People who maintain a healthy weight also have a lower risk of kidney cancer, heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes and stroke, and women have a lower risk of breast cancer and uterine cancer.

Tobacco Use

People who smoke cigarettes have a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. Cigarette smoke contains dangerous chemicals that damage the genetic structure (DNA) of the body's cells and can lead to cancer.

In addition to pancreatic cancer, people who smoke also have a higher risk of many other types of cancer, including leukemia and cancers of the lung, lip, mouth, tongue, larynx, esophagus, bladder, stomach and kidney. Smokers also have a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, bone loss (osteoporosis), emphysema and bronchitis.

Vegetables

People who eat at least three servings of vegetables per day have a lower risk of pancreatic cancer. Scientists don’t know exactly which factors provide the protection because vegetables contain many different combinations of healthy elements, like antioxidants and fiber.

One serving is:

• 1 cup of raw leafy greens, like lettuce or spinach
• ½ cup of other vegetables, raw or cooked
• ½ cup of cooked beans or peas

People who eat vegetables also have a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Diabetes

People who have diabetes have a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. Normally, the pancreas makes insulin (a hormone) that helps the body control blood sugar and use it for energy. When the pancreas stops making insulin or the body can’t use the insulin properly, blood sugar levels get out of control. This is called diabetes. Diabetes may be a sign that the cells in the pancreas are not working properly, but it is not clear yet exactly how diabetes is linked to pancreatic cancer.

People who have diabetes also have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Women who have diabetes have a higher risk of uterine cancer.

Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis occurs when there are abnormal changes and scarring in the pancreas. Chronic pancreatitis occurs for many different reasons, like alcohol abuse, gallstones, infection or other diseases. These abnormal changes in the cells of the pancreas may lead to cancer over time.

Family History

People who have a close relative (mother, father, brother or sister) with pancreatic cancer have a higher risk of the disease. This is because some pancreatic cancer is linked to mutations in the genetic structure (DNA) of the body's cells that can be passed from generation to generation.

To assess your risk for pancreatic cancer and get tips for reducing that risk, visit the Your Disease Risk website.