Heredity of Pancreatic Cancer

Li Liu, MD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Dear OncoLink "Ask the Experts,"
Is pancreatic cancer hereditary? What other risk factors are associated with pancreatic cancer?  

Li Liu, MD, OncoLink Editorial Assistant, responds:

Dear T,
Thank you for your interest and question.

It has been proven that pancreatic cancer is essentially caused by mutations of DNA. Pancreatic cancer can be hereditary, and the inherited forms of pancreatic cancer account for approximately 10% of all cases. Some rare hereditary syndromes are associated with the early development of pancreatic cancer. These include: Peutz-Jeghers syndrome ( New England Journal of Medicine 1987, 316:1511-1514), carriers of BRCA2 gene (breast cancer gene), hereditary pancreatitis, familial pancreatic cancer, and hereditary colon cancer.

In addition to heredity, there are other known risk factors for pancreatic cancer. Cigarette smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer (Journal of National Cancer Institute. 1999 Mar 17; 91(6): 535-41). The risk of developing pancreatic cancer also increases with age. Chronic pancreatitis ( American Journal of Gastroenterology. 1999 May; 94(5): 1253-60), diabetes, and a high cholesterol diet are also believed to be risk factors.

If you or someone you know is concerned about the possibility of developing pancreatic cancer, please speak to your physician.