Factors such as age, sex, and family history can impact a person’s risk of getting pancreatic cancer. It is more likely to occur later in life. Certain conditions can also increase the likelihood of pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer develops in the tissues of the pancreas. This organ secretes digestive enzymes. Some cells in the pancreas also produce insulin, a hormone crucial for blood sugar control.

Anyone can develop pancreatic cancer, but certain factors may increase the likelihood of the condition developing.

Read on to learn more about who may be more likely to get pancreatic cancer, whether it is hereditary, ways to lower the risk, and more.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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People over the age of 65 years are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. It is not common in people under the age of 40 years.

However, people who develop pancreatic cancer when they are younger may have a higher chance of survival. A 2020 study found that people aged 20 to 40 years with pancreatic cancer were almost three times as likely as those aged over 40 years to be alive five years later.

Males have a slightly higher risk of pancreatic cancer than females. However, according to the American Cancer Association, this may be due to higher smoking rates among males.

A 2023 study compared smoking-related pancreatic cancer risk for males and females. The researchers found that although females smoke less than males, the risk of pancreatic cancer for those who do smoke is similar.

Pancreatic cancer is not a hereditary condition.

However, certain hereditary conditions can increase the likelihood of pancreatic cancer, including:

A family history of pancreatic cancer may also make pancreatic cancer more likely to develop, though it is not always clear why this is the case. Most people with pancreatic cancer do not have a family history of the condition.

Learn more about pancreatic cancer and genetics.

In addition to certain hereditary conditions, the following conditions may increase pancreatic cancer risk:

  • Chronic pancreatitis: A repeated inflammation of the pancreas. A 2023 retrospective study of people who attended hospital with chronic pancreatitis found that around 2% of them developed pancreatic cancer after a median period of 2.4 years.
  • Diabetes: Pancreatic cancer is more likely in people who have had diabetes for longer than 5 years than in those who have not. However, it is unclear whether diabetes causes pancreatic cancer development or the cancer cells contribute to diabetes. Diabetes that newly develops in people over the age of 50 years may be a pancreatic cancer symptom.
  • Infections: People with certain infections, such as hepatitis B or Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, may have an increased risk of pancreatic cancer, though further research is necessary to confirm the link.

Other factors that may increase a person’s likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer include:

  • smoking
  • obesity
  • a diet high in red or processed meat
  • heavy alcohol consumption, which can lead to chronic pancreatitis
  • exposure to certain chemicals in the cleaning and metalwork industries
  • infrequent exercise, although research has found mixed results around exercise and pancreatic cancer risk
  • drinking coffee, although modern research has not confirmed this

It may not always be possible to prevent pancreatic cancer, but a person can take steps to reduce certain risk factors. These include:

  • quitting or avoiding smoking
  • avoiding alcohol or reducing alcohol intake
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • avoiding or reducing the intake of red and processed meat, such as salami, ham, and bacon

A person’s doctor can provide them with more information about ways to lower their risk of pancreatic cancer.

Learn more about preventing pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer does not always cause symptoms. However, it is important to contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible if the following symptoms start to develop and do not improve for 2 weeks or get worse:

Learn about how doctors test for pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is more likely to develop in people over the age of 65 years. It is slightly more common in males.

Some health conditions — including diabetes, chronic pancreatitis, and some hereditary conditions — can contribute to pancreatic cancer development.

Other factors that can increase a person’s risk of pancreatic cancer include smoking, obesity, a diet high in red meats, heavy alcohol consumption, and exposure to certain chemicals.

Pancreatic cancer is not always preventable, but cutting down alcohol intake, quitting smoking, and reducing red meat consumption may help reduce the risk.