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Reducing Your Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

A risk factor is something that increases your chances of developing cancer. Some risk factors cannot be changed, such as family history or genetics. Fortunately, many risk factors can be modified.

Quit Smoking

A significant number of cases of pancreatic cancer may be associated with smoking. Quitting smoking is an important step in preventing pancreatic and other cancers. The sooner smoking is stopped, the sooner the body can start to heal.

If you are a smoker, talk to your doctor about how to successfully quit. Treatment options include nicotine replacement, such as nicotine patch or gum, hypnotherapy, or group support.

Quit Drinking

Alcohol consumption may lead to pancreatic disorder, including cancer. If you drink regularly, you should try to cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink, preferably stopping all together. Contact you doctor and consider joining a support group, like AA.

Lose Weight

Being overweight or obese not only increases your risk of pancreatic cancer, but may also reduce your chance of survival if you are ever diagnosed with this condition.

Talk to a registered dietitian about proper dieting and regular exercise to lose weight. If these methods are not working, contact your doctor to discuss other options, including bariatric surgery.

Prevent Diabetes

It is well known that your chance of developing pancreatic cancer is increased if you have diabetes. If you have a family history of diabetes or have other risk factors, such as being overweight, you should get regular blood sugar testing to detect prediabetes. To prevent the condition from developing, you should control your weight with proper diet and exercise. Your doctor might consider using an antidiabetes drug if other options fail.

Avoid Exposure to Pancreatic Cancer-causing Chemicals

You have a higher-than-normal risk of developing pancreatic cancer if you work in the petroleum and dry-cleaning industries, or if your job entails the use of pesticides and dyes. If you must work in these industries, research how to best protect yourself from exposure to chemicals. Check with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or the Environmental Protection Agency about protective guidelines.

Eat a Healthful Diet

Discuss with your doctor or dietitian strategies to eat a healthful diet, such as eating foods low in saturated fat and rich in whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. You may also want to ask your doctor about taking folate supplements. One study suggests a link between high folate intake and decreased risk of pancreatic cancer.

Revision Information

  • De La Cruz MD, Young AP, Ruffin MT. Diagnosis and management of pancreatic cancer. Am Fam Physician. 2014;89(8):626-632.

  • Pancreatic cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed September 8, 2016.

  • Pancreatic cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated July 6, 2016. Accessed October 6, 2016.

  • Pancreatic cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated July 2014. Accessed September 8, 2016.

  • 7/21/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance Li D, Morris JS, Liu J, et al. Body mass index and risk, age of onset, and survival in patients with pancreatic cancer. JAMA. 2009;301(24):2553-2562.

  • 4/9/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance Oaks BM, Dodd KW, Meinhold CL, Jiao L, Church TR, Stolzenberg-Solomon RZ. Folate intake, post-folic acid grain fortification, and pancreatic cancer risk in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91(2):449-55.