Pancreatic Cancer Checklist

Know your risk factors for this deadly disease.

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Pancreatic cancer is relatively uncommon, but deadly. It often spreads quickly and tends to have few signs or symptoms in its early stages. As a consequence, it is often not caught until later in the course of the disease when it's harder to treat, which is one reason it is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. So get the jump on this deadly disease by knowing your risk factors.

Family History
Being genetically predisposed to pancreatic cancer will up your risk. According to a variety of studies, people who have a family history of pancreatic cancer are 1.5 to 13 times as likely to develop the disease themselves. Those whose family members had pancreatic cancer before age 50 are at a particularly high risk.

Diabetes
One meta-analysis of 35 studies found that people with diabetes are about twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer as those who don't have diabetes, but researchers are not sure why. Extra screening for pancreatic cancer by CT scan is currently not recommended for diabetics unless they have symptoms concerning for cancer.

Smoking
Smoking ups your risk for many cancers, pancreatic included. Studies show smokers are about 1.5 to 2.5 times as likely as nonsmokers to get pancreatic cancer, and the more they smoke, the greater their risk. The good news? Quitting could save your life. Two years after smoking cessation, risk falls 48%, and over 10 to 15 years risk returns to normal. Estimates suggest that smoking cessation could cut pancreatic cancer deaths in the U.S. by 25%.

Obesity and Physical Inactivity
Having a BMI over 30 significantly increases risk for pancreatic cancer. One study showed people with obesity were 1.72 times more likely to get pancreatic cancer than those who had a BMI under 23. Overweight and obese people may also develop the disease younger and have shorter survival time once diagnosed. 

Pancreatitis (Chronic Inflammation of the Pancreas)
Studies suggest having chronic or recurrent bouts of pancreatitis, which fills your pancreas with inflammatory chemicals, can up your risk for pancreatic cancer, though the increased risk is relatively small.