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About Pancreatic Cancer

Cancer that starts in the pancreas is called pancreatic cancer and it can develop in the head, neck, body or tail of the pancreas. There are several different types of the disease, which mainly affects middle-aged and older patients. The commonest form of the disease is pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) - accounting for around 90% of cases.

Causes and risk of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is the 11th most common cancer in the UK with close to 7,600 new patients suffering from it each year. While it is most common in people over 60 years of age (80% of patients), it is uncommon in people under 40.

Causes of Pancreatic Cancer

Research to determine the causes of pancreatic cancer is currently being carries out across the world. Recent studies have shown that mutations in the DNA of pancreatic cells play a large role in the development of cancer and that these mutations cause pancreatic cells to behave abnormally. These DNA mutations may be caused by our habits or environment (e.g. smoking) or less commonly may be inherited. The mutations cause pancreatic cells to grow in a rapid uncontrolled manner, eventually developing into a mass or tumour which no longer works the same way as the original damaged cell.

Risks

Despite the fact that the causes are poorly understood, certain factors increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

  • Smoking  Up to 20% pancreatic cancers may be linked to smoking (cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco increase the risk)
  • Diabetes  Diabetes is a common disease and there may be a slight increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
  • Diet, body weight and exercise

A number of lifestyle related factors may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer including a diet that is high in saturated fat and sugar, not eating enough fresh vegetables and fruit (this is also true for other cancer types) and being overweight and doing little or no exercise.

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