Cancer is a term used for diseases where abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer is not just one disease, but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is one type of cancer. Review the FAQs below for more information about pancreatic cancer.
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What is pancreatic cancer?
The pancreas is an organ that is six inches long. It makes insulin and other hormones. These hormones help the body use or store the energy that comes from food.
In 2014, about 46,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.¹ Most will be over 65 years old.
1. National Cancer Institute. Pancreatic cancer. Available at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/pancreatic.
What are the risk factors for pancreatic cancer?
- Smoking. Smoking tobacco is the most important risk factor for pancreatic cancer. People who smoke tobacco are more likely than nonsmokers to develop this disease. Heavy smokers are most at risk.
- Diabetes. People with diabetes are more likely than other people to develop pancreatic cancer.
- Family history. Having a mother, father, sister, or brother with pancreatic cancer increases the risk of developing the disease.
- Inflammation of the pancreas. Pancreatitis is a painful inflammation of the pancreas. Having pancreatitis for a long time may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Obesity. People who are overweight or obese are slightly more likely than other people to develop pancreatic cancer.
Many people who get pancreatic cancer have none of these risk factors, and many people who have known risk factors don’t develop the disease.
Is pancreatic cancer preventable?
There are no established guidelines for preventing pancreatic cancer. For now, the best approach is to avoid the previously mentioned behavioral risk factors whenever possible.
Cigarette smoking is the most important avoidable risk factor for pancreatic cancer. It is responsible for 20% to 30% of pancreatic cancers. Tobacco use also increases the risk of many other cancers such as cancers of the lung, mouth, larynx (voice box), esophagus, kidney, bladder, and some other organs.
Maintaining a healthy weight, eating well, and exercising are also important.