Is pancreatic cancer hereditary?

Most pancreatic cancers are not linked to family history. Only 5-10% of pancreatic cancers happen because of an inherited predisposition (higher chance) to develop pancreatic cancer.

If you have family members diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, understandably, you might want to know more about your risk.

Pancreatic cancer can be hereditary (passed down in families) in two ways:

1. Familial pancreatic cancer is cancer that appears to run in families.

2. Genetic mutations linked to pancreatic cancer – where genetic testing shows an inherited mutation or syndrome that may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Learn the link between pancreatic cancer and family history with a quick summary from Prof Ingrid Winship, Clinical Geneticist, and A/Prof Andrew Metz, Gastroenterologist.

Familial pancreatic cancer

Familial pancreatic cancer describes having multiple relatives on the same side of the family with a pancreatic cancer history. Sometimes, this type of family history suggests there is a gene mutation (change) passed down in families, even though no mutation is found in genetic testing. 

It’s important to know: one family member with pancreatic cancer doesn't make you at high risk.

Working out if you are at higher risk of pancreatic cancer requires more information. Your doctor will take into account:

  • your family history (within blood relatives)
  • other types of cancers occurring in the family
  • if your family members were young when they developed cancer.

They can advise on your individual situation and refer you to a clinical geneticist or counsellor to help you understand your risk.

Your doctor can also coordinate genetic testing. A single test, called the Pancreatic Cancer Panel, looks for several genetic mutations linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. 

Genetic mutations linked to pancreatic cancer

We inherit genes from our parents. A very small number of people inherit an underlying gene mutation or syndrome that may increase their risk of pancreatic cancer, such as:

  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (STK11 gene) 
  • hereditary pancreatitis (PRSS1 gene)
  • familial melanoma (CDKN2A gene)
  • hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (BRCA2 gene)
  • Lynch syndrome (MLH1, MSH2, MSH6 or PMS2 gene)
  • faulty ATM gene
  • faulty PALB2 gene.

These mutations or syndromes are found through genetic (DNA) testing. 

If there is a gene change in the family, there may be strategies to empower people to make lifestyle changes and any kind of screening available in order to minimise risk.

- Prof Ingrid Winship, Clinical Geneticist, Epworth HealthCare 

Screening for pancreatic cancer

Screening is checking for pancreatic cancer when a person has no symptoms.

The aim is to potentially diagnose the cancer early which in turn, improves outcomes. Epworth leads the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Screening Program for people considered at higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer due to a family history or certain genetic testing results.

Participants in the screening study will see a genetic counsellor and have an endoscopic ultrasound each year.

Please contact Research Program Manager, Caroline Le, for further information: call 03 9426 8880 or email [email protected] 

  • Eligibility to join the familial screening program at Epworth

    To be eligible, you will match one of the following:

    1. You have at least two close relatives (e.g. parent and/or sibling) with pancreatic cancer AND are aged 50 to 80 years old OR are 10 years younger than when your youngest relative was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

    2. You have a gene variant (BRCA2, ATM, PALB2, Lynch syndrome, Familial Atypical Multiple Mole Melanoma) AND a close relative (e.g. parent or sibling) with pancreatic cancer AND are aged 50 to 80 years old OR are 10 years younger than when your youngest relative was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

    3. You have Peutz-Jeghers syndrome OR hereditary pancreatitis AND are aged 40 or above.

Need help?

Talk to our pancreatic nurse coordinator 

Your pancreatic nurse coordinator will be your first point of contact during your treatment journey at Epworth. They will be able to provide answers to any questions that your or your family may have.
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