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Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer and the Environment

Pancreatic cancer is a cancer that forms in the pancreas, the thin, pear-shaped gland behind the stomach. The pancreas plays an important role in the digestive system by producing fluids to help break down food and hormones to control blood sugar levels.

Pancreatic cancer is among the ten most common cancers for both men and women. It is the cause of 7% of all cancer deaths. It ranks fourth as a cause of cancer death in both men and women in the United States each year. Incidence rates of pancreatic cancer have been rising by almost 1.2% each year over the last 10 years. Early stage pancreatic cancer usually has no symptoms and spreads quickly throughout the body, making it difficult to detect and harder to treat when it is found in its later stages.

The causes of pancreatic cancer are not well understood. According to the American Cancer Society heavy exposure at work to certain pesticides, dyes, and chemicals may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Research is needed to better understand the relationship between the
environment and pancreatic cancer, which may help determine
other potential risk factors for this disease.

Exposure and Risk


Tobacco use is the most consistent risk factor for pancreatic cancer. About 20% of all pancreatic cancer cases are attributable to cigarette smoking. Smokers are about two times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than non-smokers. Studies have shown that the risk for developing this type of cancer gets lower over time after you quit smoking.


Men have a higher risk for developing pancreatic cancer than women. This disease is about 30% more common in men than in women.


In comparison to other races and ethnicities, African Americans are at a slighter higher risk for developing pancreatic cancer throughout their lives.


Age is the most reliable and important known predictor of pancreatic cancer. The risk of developing pancreatic cancer greatly increases with age. Nearly 70% of all pancreatic cancer patients are at least 65 years old. Across all races, ethnicities, and genders, the incidence of this disease increases significantly after age 50.

People with the following risk factors may be more likely to develop pancreatic cancer:

  • smoking cigarettes or using tobacco products,
  • being obese,
  • having diabetes,
  • having chronic pancreatitis,
  • having certain hereditary conditions, and
  • having a family history of pancreatic cancer.
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You may be able to reduce your risk of developing pancreatic cancer by avoiding or changing behaviors that are known risk factors for the disease. These healthy behaviors may help prevent pancreatic cancer:

  • Don't smoke or use any tobacco products.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
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