Serious Causes And Risk Factors Of Pancreatic Cancer

October 24, 2023

Pancreatic cancer is a form of cancer where the malignancy initially develops in the pancreas, the organ responsible for the production of certain gastric enzymes and hormones that control blood sugar. The pancreas is located in the upper abdomen and sits just behind the stomach. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer include fatigue, jaundice, upper abdominal pain, appetite loss, weight loss, new-onset diabetes, and blood clots. A pancreatic cancer diagnosis is made with the help of CT scans, PET scans, MRIs, endoscopic ultrasound, pancreatic tissue biopsy, and blood tests. Treatment options for pancreatic cancer depend on the location of the malignancy, how advanced the cancer is, and the patient's current health status. Treatment may include tumor excision surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and or palliative care.

Pancreatic cancer has several causes, and numerous factors can increase an individual's risk of developing it. Learn about them now.


An individual with certain genetics is at a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer at some point in their life than someone who does not have these predisposing genetic factors. An inherited gene mutation is responsible for approximately ten percent of all cases of pancreatic cancer. The mutations known to increase an individual's risk of developing pancreatic cancer include PRSS1 gene mutations, NF1 gene mutations, BRCA2 gene mutations, and p16 gene mutations. There are also certain syndromes an individual can inherit from their parents that increase their risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Lynch syndrome is a hereditary disorder that increases an individual's chance of developing numerous types of cancer due to a mismatched repair gene. Peutz-Jeghers syndrome is an inherited disorder that causes the development of benign growths in the intestinal tract and increases the risk of developing certain types of cancers. Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome is an inherited genetic disorder that causes the abnormal growth of hemangioblastomas in various organs around the body and increases the chance of developing several types of cancer. MEN1 syndrome is a genetic disorder that increases an individual's risk of developing a malignant islet cell tumor.

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Toxins In The Environment

Individuals who have repeated and long term exposure to certain toxins in the environment are at an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. This risk factor is most often related to the toxins present at the worksite of an affected individual. Mutagenic nitrosamines are chemical compounds commonly utilized in the manufacturing of pesticides, cosmetics, rubber goods, and latex goods. Mutagenic nitrosamines are also used in the preparation of beer, fish byproducts, fish, cheese, and meat products. These chemical compounds cause the mutation of DNA and are considered to be carcinogens. Organ-chlorinated compounds are organic compounds with at least one bonded chlorine atom that influences the behavior of the molecule to which it is bonded. Individuals who have an occupation involving the production of vinyl chloride and products that utilize solvents such as dichloromethane, trichloroethane, chloroform, and dichloroethane in the manufacturing process are at a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Individuals who were exposed in their occupation to certain heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and nickel are at an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

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Chronic Pancreatitis

A chronic pancreatitis patient may develop pancreatic cancer as a complication or result of their chronic condition. Chronic pancreatitis is a term that is used to describe long term inflammation of the pancreatic tissues. One of the most common causes of chronic pancreatitis in the population is excessive alcohol consumption over an extended period. When the tissues of the pancreas become inflamed, specific immune-modulating cells are stimulated to release growth hormones to promote the process of tissue repair and replacement. The growth hormones produced in the inflammatory process can cause genetic changes and damage that can result in the uncontrollable growth of cells in the pancreas. Immune cells and dying pancreatic cells may also release certain toxins when they burst open, which causes direct genetic damage to the neighboring cells and is further compounded by the inflammatory process that follows. Chronic pancreatitis causes an inflammatory cycle to repeat over and over again in the pancreatic tissues, which eventually leads to the development of pancreatic malignancy in many cases.

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Cirrhosis Of The Liver

An individual is at a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer when they are affected by cirrhosis of the liver. Liver cirrhosis is an advanced stage of fibrosis or liver scarring that has several different causes. Chronic forms of hepatitis, chronic alcoholism, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and autoimmune hepatitis are the most common causes of liver cirrhosis. Fibrosis of the liver occurs when some underlying mechanism results in damage to liver tissues, and the body attempts to repair this damage with tissue that is denser and less versatile than the original tissues. When this process is repeated over time, the scarring in the liver accumulates and interferes with its function. The liver is responsible for filtering certain toxins from the blood and metabolizing them so they do not accumulate in and damage organs around the body. Some toxins are excreted from the body, where others are processed and recycled. Pancreatic cancer is more likely to occur in a patient who has a compromised liver because the build-up of toxins in the pancreas can cause cellular DNA damage. In addition, cancer caused by cirrhosis precipitated increased cell turnover rate is more likely to spread to the pancreas from the liver because they share a common duct.

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Sedentary Lifestyle

An individual living a sedentary lifestyle has a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than a moderately active individual. The most common component of this risk factor is how a sedentary lifestyle is typical in overweight or obese individuals. A sedentary lifestyle is known to cause an individual to become overweight or obese because they do not burn the same amount or more calories than the amount they are consuming in their diet. Obesity causes conditions and diseases linked to pancreatic cancer, such as diabetes and chronic pancreatitis. The pancreas is responsible for the production and secretion of insulin, a hormone that controls the levels of glucose in an individual's blood. Intolerance of glucose or an inability of the cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream can cause the pancreas to have to work much harder to control blood glucose. As the pancreas becomes worn out from this workload, its overall function begins to decline. Due to high cell turnover in such conditions, the patient is at an increased risk of developing cancer in the pancreas. Regular physical activity has proven to increase an individual's glucose tolerance, which lowers the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

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One of the biggest risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer is smoking cigarettes regularly. Around twenty percent of all cases of pancreatic cancer are attributed to smoking cigarettes. Individuals diagnosed with cancer who are smokers have a forty percent greater risk of dying from pancreatic cancer than a pancreatic cancer patient who does not smoke. The mechanisms that cause carcinogenesis in the pancreatic cells in an individual who is a smoker have not been studied extensively. However, the increased risk of carcinogenesis in the pancreas in regular smokers is thought to be related to the induction of chronic pancreatitis. Chronic pancreatitis causes damage to the pancreatic cells that have to be repaired or replaced. This damage increases the chance of a cancer-causing mutation to occur in the DNA of one of the pancreatic cells. When a mutation in the pancreatic cells causes them to grow and replicate out of control, the individual develops pancreatic cancer.

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An individual who has diabetes may also be affected by an early stage of pancreatic cancer. Type 2 diabetes develops when the cells of the pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin, or the insulin they do produce does not function properly. Pancreatic cancer develops in the body when a cell in the pancreatic tissues experiences a mutation in its DNA that causes it to grow and reproduce more rapidly than healthy cells do. As a malignant tumor forms in the pancreas from these rapidly growing and dividing cells, the tissues of the pancreas can begin to malfunction. One of the first signs of malfunction of the pancreas is an individual's inability to manage their blood glucose without medical intervention. An individual who has recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is at a greater risk of having pancreatic cancer that is causing their pancreas to malfunction than someone who has had diabetes for some time.

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Age And Gender

Individuals who are of certain ages and gender are at a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than others. The development of pancreatic cancer in an individual younger than forty-five years old is rare. As an individual exceeds their fifth decade of life, the risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age in a linear fashion. The median age of individuals affected by pancreatic cancer at diagnosis is sixty-three years old. The development of pancreatic cancer is more common among men than it is among women. The gender discrepancy in terms of pancreatic cancer risk is attributed to the fact men are more likely to consume excessive amounts of alcohol and develop chronic pancreatitis, are more likely to become obese and develop type 2 diabetes, and more likely to be heavy smokers. Other genetic factors may attribute to the higher incidence of pancreatic cancer in men.

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Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver that has developed due to the colonization of the hepatitis B virus in the body. The virus that causes a hepatitis B infection can spread from one individual to another through bodily fluids like blood. Hepatitis B can develop into the chronic form of the infection that eventually produces damage to the liver tissues that are repaired and replaced by scar tissue. The high turnover rate of liver cells in an individual affected by hepatitis B allows more opportunity for a mutation to take place in the DNA of liver cells. When a mutation occurs in a liver cell that causes it to grow and divide much faster than normal, liver cancer develops. Because the liver and pancreas are extremely close to each other in the body, the risk for pancreatic cancer becomes higher when liver cancer is present.

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Helicobacter Pylori

Helicobacter pylorus is a type of bacteria that causes an individual to develop stomach ulcers and, in some cases, stomach cancer. While the exact mechanisms of how helicobacter pylori infections cause an individual to develop pancreatic cancer are not clear, it is thought to be associated with the body-wide inflammation that occurs with the helicobacter pylori infection. Another theory that may explain how this type of digestive tract infection can cause pancreatic cancer development is the helicobacter pylori bacteria cause the immune system to become weakened. A healthy individual's immune system can detect most cells with mutations or abnormalities in their DNA and destroy them before they can cause cancerous growth. However, an individual who has a compromised immune system from a helicobacter pylori infection cannot clear these mutated and abnormal cells effectively. This mechanism allows a greater opportunity for carcinogenesis to occur in the cells of the pancreas and other digestive organs.

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