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Pancreatic Cancer Risks and Prevention

Researchers have yet to uncover the exact causes of pancreatic cancer. But they have identified several factors that can increase your overall risk.

At the Abramson Cancer Center, our team includes national leaders in gastrointestinal (GI) cancer and cancer genetics who help you evaluate your hereditary pancreatic cancer risk. If you’re at high risk, we take the time to explain what that means. Then we work with you to develop a personalized screening plan to help protect your health.

Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer

Having risk factors for pancreatic cancer doesn’t mean you’ll develop the disease. Although you can’t change all risk factors, making positive lifestyle changes may reduce your overall risk.

Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include:

  • Older age: Pancreatic cancer usually develops after age 65.
  • Unhealthy diet: Eating a lot of red and processed meats and few vegetables puts you at greater risk.
  • Excess weight: Obesity increases your risk for developing pancreatic cancer.
  • Smoking: Heavy smoking may contribute to the development of pancreatic cancer.
  • Family history: If one or more of your family members have had pancreatic cancer, you may be at increased risk.
  • Pancreatic cysts: Noncancerous cysts carry a small risk of turning into aggressive pancreatic cancer.

Is Pancreatic Cancer Hereditary?

Experts estimate that a small percentage (10 percent) of pancreatic cancer cases are hereditary. Hereditary cancers are caused by gene mutations (abnormalities in your DNA) that can be passed down in families.

Most people associate the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations with an increased breast cancer risk. However, these genetic mutations also put you at greater risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Many other gene mutations can also increase pancreatic cancer risk. It is important to know your family history of cancer.

Managing Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer

While there is no standard screening method for pancreatic cancer, people at higher risk for the disease have specialized surveillance options. If you’ve been found to have a higher than average risk of pancreatic cancer, your doctor may recommend a combination of genetic testing and annual pancreas imaging with MRI, CT or endoscopic ultrasound.

Our goal is to identify pancreatic tumors at earlier stages, when treatment may be more effective. Learn more about Penn Medicine’s Pancreatic Cancer Risk Management Program.

You may be eligible for the Pancreatic Cancer Risk Management Program if you have:

  • Family members diagnosed with pancreatic cancer: At least two affected relatives on the same side of your family or at least one close biological relative, such as a parent, sibling or child.
  • Certain genetic mutations: A genetic mutation in BRCA1, BRCA2 or any of the Lynch syndrome gene mutations are connected to pancreatic risk.
  • Hereditary pancreatitis

Why Choose Abramson Cancer Center for Pancreatic Cancer Care?

Penn’s gastrointestinal (GI) cancer specialists are world leaders in pancreatic cancer care. We offer specialized services and programs dedicated to helping people assess and manage their risk for pancreatic cancer.

When you come to us, you can expect:

  • Cancer genetics expertise: Penn is home to national and international leaders in cancer genetics. Our team includes doctors, genetic counselors and researchers with in-depth knowledge of all types of hereditary GI cancers. Meet our team.
  • Complete risk evaluation care: We offer comprehensive GI cancer risk evaluation, genetic counseling and genetic testing services to identify inherited cancer syndromes. We then make a pancreatic cancer risk management plan that protects your health and fits your lifestyle.
  • Programs dedicated to high-risk individuals: Penn Medicine’s Basser Center for BRCA offers specialized care for people with BRCA-related cancers. Our Gastrointestinal Cancer Genetics Program focuses on caring for people and families who have or are at risk for hereditary pancreatic and other GI cancers. The region’s only dedicated multidisciplinary Pancreatic Cyst Clinic offers initial assessment and long-term surveillance.
  • Coordinated care from world-class experts: Our genetic counselors work closely with gastroenterologists, medical oncologists and surgeons. This coordination provides high-quality care and makes it easier for you to access the services you need. Read about our renowned GI cancer program.
  • Wide-ranging cancer services near you: Penn Medicine’s extensive network offers easy access to comprehensive pancreatic cancer diagnosis, treatment and support services. Find an Abramson Cancer Center location near you.

Request an Appointment

Our pancreatic cancer nurse navigator can guide you to the right pancreatic cancer expert for your needs. Call 215-615-0534 or request an appointment online.