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Habits Increasing Your Pancreatic Cancer Risk, Say Medical Experts

Five things that can increase your risk of pancreatic cancer. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

There's more than 100 different types of cancers and pancreatic cancer is considered one of the deadliest because there's oftentimes no early warning signs. It's not diagnosed until a later stage, which makes treatment challenging. Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies tells us, "Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive and difficult-to-treat forms of cancer. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most common types of cancer, with over 60, 000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States alone. While many risk factors for pancreatic cancer, some lifestyle choices can increase the likelihood of developing the disease. Here are five lifestyle choices that have been linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer." Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What to Know About Pancreatic Cancer

Doctor in white medical lab coat points ballpoint pen on anatomical model of human or animal pancreas

Dr. Mitchell says, "Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the pancreas. The pancreas is a gland located in the abdomen, behind the stomach. The pancreas has two main functions: to produce enzymes that help digest food and hormones, such as insulin, that regulate blood sugar levels. Pancreatic cancer usually starts in the cells lining the pancreas' ducts. These cells are called exocrine cells. Less often, pancreatic cancer begins in the hormone-producing cells of the pancreas, called islet cells. When pancreatic cancer begins in the exocrine cells, it is called exocrine pancreatic cancer. When it starts in the islet cells, it is called an islet cell tumor or neuroendocrine tumor. Most pancreatic cancers are exocrine tumors."


Pancreatic Cancer is Aggressive and Hard to Treat

Doctor examine an x-ray picture of pancreas

Dr. Mitchell states, "Pancreatic cancer is a very aggressive form of cancer and is difficult to treat. It seldom causes symptoms in its early stages, so it is often not discovered until it has spread to other body parts. By the time most people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the disease has already spread beyond the pancreas and cannot be cured. However, treatment may help people live longer and improve their quality of life. Pancreatic cancer is one of the few cancers for which there is no widely available screening test, so it is essential to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease. If you have any concerns, please consult your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer can improve survival rates."



Hand stubbed out cigarette in a transparent ashtray on wooden table

"According to the American Cancer Society, smokers are two to three times more likely than nonsmokers to develop pancreatic cancer," Dr. Mitchell shares. "Smoking is thought to be responsible for approximately 25%  of all pancreatic cancers. The link between smoking and pancreatic cancer is thought to be due to the many harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke. These chemicals damage DNA, leading to the development of cancerous cells. Smoking damages the pancreas, making it more difficult for this vital organ to function correctly. This can lead to chronic inflammation, which further increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. Quitting smoking is the best way to reduce the risk of developing this deadly disease."




Dr. Mitchell emphasizes, "Obesity is a major risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Obese people are nearly twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer as those of average weight. There are several ways in which obesity increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. First, excess fat tissue produces hormones that can promote the growth of cancer cells. Second, obesity increases inflammation throughout the body, which is known to play a role in cancer development. Finally, obesity makes it more difficult for the body to process sugar, leading to insulin resistance and an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. By maintaining a healthy weight, you can help reduce your risk of this deadly disease."



Man taking blood sample with lancet pen indoors

"There is a strong link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer," Dr. Mitchell explains. "People with diabetes have a two- to three-fold higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than those without diabetes. The link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer is likely due to the high levels of blood sugar associated with diabetes. High blood sugar levels can damage cells and lead to inflammation, both of which can increase the risk of cancer. Pancreatic cancer is also more common in people with type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease. This may be because type 2 diabetes is often associated with obesity, another risk factor for pancreatic cancer. If you have diabetes, it's important to control your blood sugar levels and maintain a healthy weight to lower your risk of pancreatic cancer."


Poor Diet

Man eating pizza having a takeaway at home relaxing resting

Dr. Mitchell says, "A healthy diet is essential for many reasons, including reducing your risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is more common in people who are overweight or obese, and those who consume a diet high in sugar and fat are also at an increased risk. While the exact cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown, it is thought that excess insulin production may play a role. Insulin is a hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar levels, and when blood sugar levels are constantly high, it can damage cells and lead to cancer. A diet high in sugar and fat raises blood sugar levels, increasing pancreatic cancer risk. Additionally, eating a lot of red and processed meats has also been linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. So, if you want to reduce your risk of this disease, it's essential to maintain a healthy weight and eat a balanced diet low in sugar, fat, and red meat."


Sedentary Lifestyle

Woman sitting on bed looking at phone bored and in a bad mood

"A sedentary lifestyle has been linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer," Dr. Mitchell tells us.  This is likely because a sedentary lifestyle leads to obesity, a known risk factor for pancreatic cancer. In addition, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to inflammation, which is also a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Finally, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to insulin resistance, another known risk factor for pancreatic cancer. While other factors can contribute to the development of pancreatic cancer, a sedentary lifestyle is considered one of the most important. Therefore, it is essential to stay active and avoid sitting for long periods in order to reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer."

Dr. Mitchell says this "doesn't constitute medical advice and by no means are these answers meant to be comprehensive. Rather, it's to encourage discussions about health choices."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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