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Is Pancreatic Cancer Genetic or Hereditary?

Our family history plays an important role in our health. In some cases, we may carry an increased risk of disease in our genes. For example, if your father or mother had heart disease and their parents did as well; your risk for heart disease might be higher too.

Family history, or genetics, is an uncontrollable risk factor for many health conditions, including pancreatic cancer. Below, you can find out how your genes – and certain markers in your blood – might affect your risks.

Gene Changes and Pancreatic Cancer

Inherited gene changes, also called mutations, can be passed from parent to child. These changes may cause up to 10 percent of pancreatic cancers and may cause other problems as well, such as increased risks for heart disease and other types of cancers.

Tumor Markers and Pancreatic Cancer

Sometimes, certain proteins in your blood will rise when pancreatic cancer is present. These are called tumor markers. The tumor marker CA 19-9 is the one most closely tied to pancreatic cancer.

The problem with this marker is that it can go up even when a person may not have pancreatic cancer, and may not go up even if a person does have pancreatic cancer. This is why doctors usually advise against blood testing for CA 19-9. Some doctors may order this test, however, if there are symptoms closely matching pancreatic cancer.

Know Your History

It’s important to know your family’s health history and the types of health conditions or problems your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings have had. By understanding your history, you can have a better idea of what to talk about with your doctor and what screening tests you might need.

If you have a family history of pancreatic cancer, or other GI cancers, your health care provider can help you decide if you’re a candidate for screenings. Patients also can learn more from UPMC’s Hereditary GI Tumor Program by calling 412-623-3105.