What Factors Increase Your Risk of Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic cancer starts with the tissues of the pancreas which is an organ that lies horizontally in the abdomen behind your stomach’s lower portion. The pancreas is responsible for releasing enzymes which help with digestion as well as hormones to manage blood sugar. In most cases, pancreatic cancer will spread quickly to other organs nearby and it is unfortunately not frequently detected while in early stages. Then what causes it?

What Causes Pancreatic Cancer?

At the moment, scientists aren’t sure what causes this cancer, but they do know of multiple risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of developing the disease. Some risk factors impact the DNA of pancreatic cells, which in turn leads to abnormal cell growth and can cause tumor growth.

It is important to remember that having one or more risk factors doesn’t indicate that you will surely get pancreatic cancer and not having any doesn’t mean you are safe from it.

Factors You Can Change

Using Tobacco

One of the risk factors for pancreatic cancer which can be changed is smoking tobacco and this is among the most important ones. Smokers have nearly the double risk of pancreatic cancer compared to people who haven’t ever smoked. In fact, in between 20 to 30 percent of cases, cigarette smoking is thought to be cause. Using smokeless tobacco products as well as smoking pipes or cigars also increases the risk.

Being Overweight

Being overweight to any degree is another risk factor for pancreatic cancer, with those who are obese (extremely overweight) being 20 percent more at risk to develop it. Even those who are not very overweight may be affected by this risk factor if they have additional weight by the waistline.

Being Exposed to Particular Chemicals

What causes pancreatic cancer? Those who are exposed to specific chemicals at work, including those used in the metal working and dry cleaning industries, can increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Factors You Can’t Change

Getting Older

Now move into risk factors you can’t change.As you get older, your risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases. Nearly every patient with this cancer is over 45 and around two thirds are over 65. On average, pancreatic cancer is diagnosed at 71.

Being Male

Although the difference is slight, men have a higher risk of pancreatic cancer than women. Because this gap used to be larger and has closed in recent years, experts feel that it may be largely due to the higher consumption of tobacco among men.

Being African American

Another risk factor you have no control over is race. African Americans have a slightly higher risk than whites. Although experts aren’t sure why, they feel that it may be due to other related risk factors like smoking for men, being overweight for women, and diabetes.

Having a Family History

Although not what causes pancreatic cancer, it does seem to run in certain families. In certain cases, this is because of an inherited syndrome. Despite family history being a risk factor, the majority of those with pancreatic cancer have no family history.

Having an Inherited Genetic Syndrome

Inherited gene mutations may be passed down from the parents to the child and may be the cause of up to 10 percent of pancreatic cancer cases. The gene changes may lead to syndromes that increase the risk of other health problems, including other cancers. Just some of the possible genetic syndromes that may lead to exocrine pancreatic cancer are:

  • Von Hippel-Lindau Syndrome
  • Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome
  • Lynch Syndrome
  • Familial Pancreatitis
  • Familial Atypical Multiple Mole Melanoma Syndrome
  • Hereditary Ovarian and Breast Cancer Syndrome

Genetic testing can be done to check for changes to some of the genes responsible for these syndromes.

Being Diabetic

Those with diabetes are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, particularly those with type 2 although the reason isn’t known. Experts aren’t sure whether those with type 1 diabetes also have an increased risk.

Suffering from Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is long-term pancreas inflammation and connected to a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer, particularly among smokers. Even so, most people with pancreatitis won’t develop pancreatic cancer. Chronic pancreatitis can be caused by an inherited gene mutation, in which case there is a high risk of pancreatic cancer.

Developing Cirrhosis of Your Liver

Cirrhosis or scarring of your liver can develop in those experiencing liver damage from heavy alcohol use, hepatitis, or other causes. It also increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Having Stomach Issues

Those whose stomachs are infected with the bacteria H. pylori which cause ulcers may have a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Excess stomach acid may also play a role.

Having Gum or Tooth Disease

Although the reason isn’t known, some research showed a higher risk in those with gum or tooth disease.

Factors That May or May Not Increase Risk

Diet

In some studies, pancreatic cancer has been connected to diets rich in processed foods and red meats and low in vegetables and fruits, but more research is needed.

Being Physically Inactive

Some but not all studies have suggested not being physically active can increase the risk.

Drinking Coffee

Older studies suggested the risk of pancreatic cancer increased with coffee drinking, but recent studies don’t confirm it.

Drinking Alcohol

Some but not all studies show a connection between pancreatic cancer and heavy alcohol use. While the link isn’t certain, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to cirrhosis or chronic pancreatitis, both of which do increase the risk.

Symptoms and Treatments of Pancreatic Cancer

Now that you know potentially what causes pancreatic cancer, it is important to recognize the symptoms and understand treatment.

Symptoms

In many cases, symptoms won’t appear until the disease has progressed. They can include:

  • Blood clots
  • New-onset diabetes
  • Depression
  • Unintended weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Pain in upper abdomen radiating to back
  • Jaundice
  • Fatigue

See the doctor if you lose weight without explanation or have other persistent symptoms. Other conditions may also be responsible so your doctor will likely run tests.

Treatment

The treatment plan for pancreatic cancer depends on the disease’s stage and the general health of the patient among other factors. As such, you should carefully discuss treatment options with your doctor. Potential treatments include chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, or palliative care.

 
 
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