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Pancreatic Cancer Prevention and Screening

Pancreatic Cancer Screening

Cancer screening exams are important medical tests done when you’re at risk but don’t have symptoms. They help find cancer at its earliest stage, when the chances for successful treatment are highest.

Unfortunately, no standardized screening tests have been shown to improve pancreatic cancer outcomes. If you are at high risk for pancreatic cancer, speak to your doctor about whether testing might be right for you. This might include:

  • Endoscopic ultrasound: An endoscope with an ultrasound probe on the end is inserted through the mouth into the pancreas
  • CT or CAT (computed axial tomography) scans to look for abnormalities

MD Anderson is working to develop effective screening tests, including finding molecular abnormalities that may identify people at risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic Cancer Prevention

The number one way to prevent pancreatic cancer is to stop smoking. Read more about MD Anderson’s smoking cessation clinical trials. Other lifestyle choices may lower your chances of getting pancreatic cancer, including:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Getting regular exercise

Research shows that many cancers can be prevented. Visit the Prevention section of our website to find out steps you can take to avoid cancer.

Why Choose MD Anderson?

  • Leading-edge pancreatic cancer treatments including targeted therapies, proton therapy and specialized surgical procedures
  • Some of the nation’s most skilled and experienced pancreatic cancer surgeons
  • Advanced diagnostic methods, including endoscopic ultrasound and the latest, most-precise CT scan technology
  • Nationally recognized research program with clinical trials of new treatments for pancreatic cancer, including gene therapy, including tumor suppressor genes, targeted therapies and drugs that target epidermal growth factor.

Pancreatic Cancer Knowledge Center

Treatment at MD Anderson

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Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting pancreatic cancer is a risk factor. While the precise causes of pancreatic cancer have not been determined, MD Anderson is researching risk factors and has made several landmark discoveries. Pancreatic cancer risk factors include:

Age: The risk of pancreatic cancer increases sharply after 50 years old. At the time of diagnosis, almost 90% of patients are older than 55.

Race: African-Americans are more likely to have pancreatic cancer than other ethnic groups.

Smoking and tobacco use: People who smoke are two to three times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. Smokeless tobacco also increases risk. Read more about MD Anderson’s smoking cessation clinical trials

Family history: Pancreatic cancer seems to run in some families, and some research shows that about 10% are caused by hereditary gene changes. The exact genes have not been fully identified, but changes in DNA that increase a person's risk for other types of cancer may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. Gene mutations that seem to increase risk for pancreatic cancer include:

  • K-ras, found in most cases of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas
  • BRCA2, often found in families with high rates of breast, ovarian and prostate cancers. BRCA2 seems to be more common in people with Ashkenazi Jewish or Eastern European heritage
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome and other rare genetic syndromes

Other hereditary conditions that might mean higher risk of pancreatic cancer include:

  • Hereditary pancreatitis
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 syndrome
  • Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC, also called Lynch syndrome)
  • Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome
  • Ataxia-telangiectasia
  • Familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome (FAMMM)

Obesity: People who are very overweight and have a body mass index (BMI) more than 30 are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. It is also is found more often in people who do not exercise regularly.

Chronic pancreatitis

Sudden onset diabetes: Diabetes can be both a risk factor and an early symptom of pancreatic cancer. The exact relationship between diabetes and pancreatic cancer is being studied, but it may be caused by high concentrations of insulin or other hormones. In diabetics, sudden changes in blood sugar control may also be a risk factor

Environmental exposure to certain pesticides, dyes, and chemicals

Not everyone with risk factors gets pancreatic cancer. However, if you have risk factors, you should discuss them with your doctor.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center