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Signs You May be at Risk for Pancreatic Cancer

Here’s what we know about the most common pancreatic cancer risk factors.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 62,210 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2022. "Survival for this disease remains shockingly low and this has to change. There's an urgent need to tackle pancreatic cancer head on by building up an armory of effective new treatments—and developing ways to diagnose this disease sooner, when surgery is more effective," says professor Jeff Evans, clinician and researcher at Cancer Research UK's Beatson Institute in Glasgow. Here are five signs you may be at risk for 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.

1

Genetics

Doctor in white medical lab coat points ballpoint pen on anatomical model of human or animal pancreas
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Research published in JAMA showed six specific gene mutations linked to pancreatic cancer—although the mutations may also be found in people with no family history of the disease. "This study provides the most comprehensive data to date supporting genetic testing for all pancreatic cancer patients," says Fergus Couch, PhD. "This is the first study to provide estimates on the magnitude of cancer risk associated with each gene. It indicates that family history alone cannot predict who has these mutations."

"Multiple genes can each increase risk of pancreatic cancer. But if genetic testing is performed only on patients with a family history of pancreatic cancer, then a small number of patients will be helped," says Gloria Petersen, PhD.

2

Heavy Alcohol Use

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Alcohol abuse can lead to chronic pancreatitis, a condition strongly linked to pancreatic cancer. "It is not clear how much alcohol causes chronic pancreatitis," says Johns Hopkins Medicine. "The American Cancer Society recommends that women avoid drinking more than one drink per day while men should drink no more than two drinks per day. However, chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer are associated with large amounts of alcohol consumed over an extended period of time."

3

Obesity

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Research shows obesity and pancreatic cancer are strongly correlated. "With the majority of pancreatic and breast cancer patients being overweight or obese at diagnosis, uncovering potential therapeutic targets within the mechanisms that associate obesity with poor cancer prognoses is the first step towards developing remedies that could disrupt this association and significantly improve patient outcome," says Rakesh K. Jain, PhD

4

Type 2 Diabetes

Woman is testing herself for diabetes.
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Type 2 diabetes is closely linked to pancreatic cancer, doctors warn. "Diabetes Mellitus type 2 is a risk factor, a manifestation and a prognostic factor for pancreatic cancer. Up to 80% of pancreatic cancer patients present with either new-onset type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance at the time of diagnosis," according to an article published in JOP: Journal of the Pancreas. "Molecular biomarkers will be crucial to determine which patients with new-onset diabetes should be screened with endoscopic ultrasound for pancreatic cancer."

5

Smoking Cigarettes

cigarettes
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"Smoking is one of the most important risk factors for pancreatic cancer," says the American Cancer Society. "The risk of getting pancreatic cancer is about twice as high among people who smoke compared to those who have never smoked. About 25% of pancreatic cancers are thought to be caused by cigarette smoking. Cigar smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco products also increase the risk. However, the risk of pancreatic cancer starts to drop once a person stops smoking." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more
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