Causes and Risk Factors of Pancreatic Cancer

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Pancreatic cancer develops as a result of the interaction of various factors such as diet, lifestyle and genetics, but there is no single, specific risk factor.

However, some factors are known to be associated with an increased incidence of the disease:

  • Diet. Excessive consumption of red meat and processed meat should be avoided. Nevertheless, there is currently no scientific evidence as to which foods or nutrients are mainly responsible for this type of cancer.
  • Lifestyle. A lack of physical exercise, being overweight, obesity, and the consumption of alcohol and tobacco all increase the likelihood of pancreatic cancer developing.
  • Chronic pancreatitis. Chronic pancreatitis lasting several decades increases the risk of pancreatic adenocarcinoma. This risk is increased by smoking and also by genetic factors.
  • History of diabetes. Patients with long-standing diabetes are at a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. On the other hand, in some cases the onset of diabetes may actually be an early sign of pancreatic cancer rather than a predisposing factor.
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer. Genetics play an important role in the development of pancreatic cancer, accounting for 4% of all cases. The majority of these patients have alterations in their DNA repair genes, such as BRCA2, PALB2 and ATM.

Some hereditary syndromes such as hereditary pancreatitis, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome, hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, and hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome) are all associated with an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

The term ‘hereditary’ refers to genetic traits passed down from one generation to another in a family. Having a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) or second-degree relative (aunt, uncle or cousin) with pancreatic cancer also increases the risk of developing the disease.

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