About 46,000 cases of pancreatic cancer occur yearly in the United States. Most people who develop pancreatic cancer do so without any predisposing risk factors. However, perhaps the biggest risk factor is increasing age; being over the age of 60 puts an individual at greater risk. Rarely, there can be familial, genetic syndromes arising from genetic mutations that run in families and put individuals at higher risk, such as BRCA-2 and, to a lesser extent, BRCA-1 gene mutations. Familial syndromes are unusual, but it is important to let a doctor know if anyone else in the family has been diagnosed with cancer. Additionally, certain behaviors or conditions are thought to slightly increase an individual’s risk for developing pancreatic cancer.
For example, African-Americans may be at greater risk as may individuals with close family members who have been previously diagnosed with the disease. Other behaviors or conditions that may put people at risk include tobacco use, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, a history of diabetes, chronic pancreatic inflammation (pancreatitis), and a fatty (or Western) diet. Prior stomach surgery may moderately increase one’s risk as can certain chronic infections such as hepatitis B and H. pylori (a bacterial infection of the stomach lining). Certain drugs (sitagliptin [Januvia] and metformin and sitagliptin [Janumet]) have been linked to the development of pancreatic cancer. Some types of pancreatic cysts may put individuals at risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
When pancreatic cancer begins, it usually starts in the cells that line the ducts of the pancreas and is termed pancreatic carcinoma or pancreatic exocrine cancer. Despite the associated risks cited above, no identifiable cause is found in most people who develop pancreatic cancer.