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Hereditary Cancer Info > Cancer Risk > Pancreatic Cancer

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Pancreatic Cancer

Learn about the specific risks for cancers associated with HBOC.

Pancreatic cancer risk overview

Pancreatic cancer is rare. The risk for BRCA carriers is up to 5% compared to 1.5% in the general population. The risk is higher for BRCA2 mutation carriers than individuals with BRCA1 mutations. In addition to BRCA1 and BRCA2, other hereditary syndromes have been linked with an increased risk for pancreatic cancer, including Peutz-Jeghers and Lynch syndromes, as well as mutations in the PALB2 and CDKN2A genes.

Other risk factors for pancreatic cancer include:

  • family history
  • race/ethnicity (black Americans are at highest risk)
  • gender (males/male mutation carriers have a slightly higher risk)
  • smoking
  • diabetes/pancreatitis
  • high-fat diet and increased meat consumption

Some experts advocate genetic testing for all pancreatic adenocarcinoma patients, as this information may be critical for other family members in terms of screening and prevention. Knowing one’s BRCA status is increasingly important in treatment decision-making as it can affect the decision to use a platinum drug in the initial chemotherapy, as well as eligibility for clinical trials for PARP inhibitors. 

Many people with BRCA mutations wonder if screening for pancreatic cancer is appropriate—as yet, we have no clear answers regarding this issue, but research continues. MRI and endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)—passing a tiny scope with an ultrasound probe down the esophagus to the stomach—are currently considered the best screening tools. Upper endoscopy with EUS is more invasive than MRI.  A blood test for CA19-9, a tumor marker present with pancreatic cancer, is available, however, it is not recommended as it may give false positive or false negative results.

People with mutations in genes associated with increased pancreatic risk and a strong family history of pancreatic cancer are encouraged to discuss the pros and cons of annual screening with their healthcare provider. These individuals may also be eligible for pancreatic cancer screening studies. Visit our research study page for links to clinical trials for early detection of pancreatic cancer. 

If pancreatic cancer runs in your family, it is important to consult with a genetics specialist to determine risk and management options.

Updated 11/08/2016

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