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Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer

A risk factor is something that increases your chances of developing cancer.

It is possible to develop pancreatic cancer with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

In general, pancreatic cancer is more common in people over the age of 50 years. The average age at diagnosis is 65 years. Risk is nearly twice as high in men as in women. Other factors that may increase your chance of pancreatic cancer include:


Smoking and using smokeless tobacco is a clear risk factor for the development of pancreatic cancer. Smoking increases risk 3-4 times more than a nonsmoker.

Medical or Surgical History

People with current or a history of the following may have a higher risk of pancreatic cancer:

Occupational Exposure

Some studies suggest that occupational exposure to certain chemicals may increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Chemicals that seem to be particularly associated with pancreatic cancer include those used in the petroleum and dry-cleaning industries, pesticides, and dyes.


A diet that is low in fiber and high in fat may increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Family History of Cancer

Some families seem to have a genetic predisposition to develop certain types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer. If your mother, father, brother, or sister has had pancreatic cancer, you are 3 times as likely to develop the disease yourself. The presence of colon or ovarian cancer within your family also increases your risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Genetic Factors

About 10% of pancreatic cancers are due to hereditary factors. The following hereditary conditions increase the risk of pancreatic cancer:

  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Familial multiple mole melanoma syndrome
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
  • Non-polyposis colorectal cancer syndrome
  • Familial breast cancer syndrome
  • Hereditary pancreatitis


African Americans have a greater risk—30%-40%—of developing pancreatic cancer than Caucasians. People of Hispanic origin or Asian Americans are less commonly affected.

Revision Information

  • Cruz MD, Young AP, et al. Diagnosis and management of pancreatic cancer. Am Fam Physician. 2014;89(8):626-632.

  • Pancreatic cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed October 5, 2015.

  • Pancreatic cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated February 23, 2015. Accessed October 5, 2015.

  • Pancreatic cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated July 2014. Accessed October 5, 2015.

  • 9/23/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Boffetta P, Hecht S, et al. Smokeless tobacco and cancer. Lancet Oncol. 2008;9(7):667-675.