A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of getting a disease. Studies have found the following risk factors for cancer of the pancreas:
Age: The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases as people age. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 71.
Gender: Men are 30% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than women.
Race: African Americans are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than whites.
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.
Other risk factors are under active study (alcohol, coffee, diet, stomach problems, genetic syndromes).
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.
Early cancer of the pancreas often doesn’t cause symptoms. When the cancer grows larger, you may notice one or more of these common symptoms:
- Dark urine, pale stools, and yellow skin and eyes from jaundice
- Pain in the upper part of your belly
- Pain in the middle part of your back that doesn’t go away when you shift your position
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stools that float in the toilet
- Weakness or feeling very tired
- Loss of appetite or feelings of fullness
- Weight loss for no known reason
- Sudden-onset diabetes or sudden change in blood-sugar control in diabetics
- Swollen gallbladder
- Blood clots
These symptoms do not always mean you have pancreatic cancer. However, it is important to discuss any of these symptoms with your doctor, since they may signal other health problems.