dna molecule

Is Pancreatic Cancer Hereditary?

This post was last updated on June 30, 2016

If your mother or father had pancreatic cancer, are you destined to develop the disease too? What if a parent has been diagnosed with a different type of cancer — does that have an effect on your risk?

When it comes to cancer, there are a lot of questions about the role that our genes play in the risk and development of disease, and pancreatic cancer is no exception. Scientists are still uncovering more details about the ways in which family history can influence your risk. Here’s what we know right now:

Pancreatic Cancer Causes and Risk Factors

Pancreatic cancer occurs when cancerous cells form in the tissues of the pancreas, an organ located in the abdomen behind the stomach. It’s still unclear exactly what causes the condition. However, researchers have pinpointed some risk factors. You’re more likely to develop it if you are:

  • Older than age 45
  • Male
  • African American
  • Overweight or obese
  • A smoker

Is Pancreatic Cancer Genetic?

It also appears your family history of the disease may indeed play a role.

In fact, certain abnormal genes that are passed from parents to child may account for about 10 percent of all pancreatic cancers. A number of such genes and gene mutations can increase your risk, even if they are better known for causing other cancers. These include genes linked to:

Certain genetic syndromes can also raise your risk of developing pancreatic cancer. However, scientists still don’t know the exact genetic defect in most people with a family history of the disease.

Pancreatic Cancer Genetic Testing

Routine screening for pancreatic cancer isn’t currently recommended. If you have a strong family history of the condition (more than one blood relative with the disease), your doctor may suggest that you undergo genetic counseling. A genetic counselor can explain the process of genetic testing and how to interpret the results.

Remember, genetic screening can help identify genes or gene mutations to your DNA that may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer. It does not test for or identify pancreatic cancer itself. It’s important to keep in mind that if you have an inherited gene or mutation linked to pancreatic cancer, you have a greater risk of the disease. This does not mean that you have or definitely will develop this type cancer.

Do you or someone you love have pancreatic cancer? Make an appointment with the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center to speak with an expert about treatment options and answer your questions about the disease.