The precise causes of pancreatic cancer have not yet been determined, but research indicates that certain risk factors may be associated with an increased probability of developing pancreatic cancer:
- Age: The risk of pancreatic cancer increases sharply after 50 years of age. At the time of diagnosis, most patients are between 60 and 80 years of age.
- Race: African-Americans are more likely to have pancreatic cancer than other ethnic groups.
- Smoking: The risk of pancreatic cancer is higher among smokers.
- Family history: Pancreatic cancer seems to run in some families. The exact genes responsible have not been fully identified, but changes in DNA that increase a person's risk for other types of cancer may also increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Obesity: People with a body mass index (BMI) of over 30 are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.
- Chronic pancreatitis: This long-term inflammation of the pancreas is linked with a slightly higher risk of pancreas cancer. Chronic pancreatitis may be difficult to diagnose, but most people have symptoms, including abdominal pain.
- Sudden onset diabetes: Diabetes can be both a risk factor and an early symptom of pancreatic cancer. The exact relationship between diabetes and pancreatic cancer is being studied, but may be caused by high concentrations of insulin or other hormones. In diabetics, a sudden change in blood sugar control may also be a risk factor.