There are two main types of risk factors: those you can change; like lifestyle choices (i.e. modifiable), and those you cannot change; such as your genes or family history (i.e. non-modifiable).

Having risk factors doesn’t mean you will definitely get pancreatic cancer. Many people with one or more risk factors never develop the disease, and some individuals with pancreatic cancer might not have had any identifiable risk factors. For example, smokers may have a higher relative risk of developing pancreatic cancer than non-smokers. However, this doesn’t mean all smokers will develop the disease; it simply means their risk is higher than the general population. 

Understanding your risk factors is crucial for making informed decisions about your health. By being aware of the factors that you can control, such as smoking, diet, and exercise, you can take steps to reduce your risk. At the same time, recognising the factors you can’t change, like your genetic makeup or family history, can help you and your doctor stay alert for early signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer. 

References: Cancer Australia and Cancer Council VIC


Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include


The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. Most people who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are over 60 years old, and 50% of cases occur in individuals aged 71 and over. 


People who have a BMI over 30 kg/m2 are about 20% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer compared to those with a healthy weight. The risk is even higher for those who are obese in their early adult years. 

Your body mass index (BMI) is an approximate measure of your best weight for health.  You can use a body mass index (BMI) calculator for adults to calculate your BMI, provided you know your weight in kilograms (kg) and height in centimetres (cm).


People who smoke are twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who don’t. However, if you quit smoking, your risk decreases over time.

Family history and genetic syndromes

Pancreatic cancer may run in the family and/or may be linked with genetic conditions that increase the risk of other types of cancer. This is called familial pancreatic cancer. Approximately 10% of individuals with pancreatic cancer report a family history of pancreatic cancer.

If you have a child, sibling, or parent who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, your own risk of developing it might be higher, especially if more than one family member has had it. It is a good idea to keep track of any health issues that run in your family.

Find out more about family history of pancreatic cancer.

Family history of pancreatic cancer | Patient education video

Alcohol consumption

Research indicates that heavy drinking may be linked to a higher chance of getting pancreatic cancer. People who consume more than four (4) standard alcoholic drinks a day have a greater risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Heavy alcohol consumption can also cause illnesses like chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). Chronic pancreatitis is known to increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer (see below). 


People who have had diabetes for over five years are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. A sudden onset of type 2 diabetes in someone over 50, especially if they are losing weight or don’t have a family history of diabetes, may be an early sign of pancreatic cancer and should be investigated. 


Chronic pancreatitis refers to inflammation of the pancreas that keeps coming back over time. Chronic pancreatitis is common in people who consume large amounts of alcohol over many years.

Familial pancreatitis is a hereditary (genetic) condition. It is common and usually begins by the time a person is aged twenty years. Those with chronic or hereditary pancreatitis have a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatitis | Patient education video

Pancreatic cyst

Pancreatic cysts are fluid-filled growths on or inside the pancreas. Most of them are benign, meaning they are not cancerous. However, some cysts can turn into cancer. Not all pancreatic cysts increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, but a few types do, such as: mucinous cystic neoplasms (MCNs), intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMNs) and solid pseudopapillary neoplasms.

Find out more about pancreatic cysts.

Pancreatic cysts | Patient education video

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Pancreatic Cancer Patient Guide

Easy to read information about diagnosis, treatment, diet and pain management in one place
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Patient Nutrition Guide

Helpful ways to manage nutrition during pancreatic cancer and treatment

Ways to lower your risk

Some easy lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of pancreatic cancer include:

Quit smoking

Smoking is the most important avoidable risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Not smoking is the best way to lower your risk for pancreatic cancer. If you smoke and want help quitting, please talk to your doctor or call the Quitline on 13 QUIT (13 7848). 

Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight can make your body less responsive to insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar levels. This causes your pancreas to make more insulin. High levels insulin-like growth factor 1, can help cancer cells grow. To lower your risk of cancer, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight. Your doctor can help you with advice on maintaining a healthy weight.


A high dietary intake of fresh fruit and vegetables has been shown to reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Avoid eating too much red and processed meat, and drinking too many sugary drinks, as these have been shown to increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Avoid heavy alcohol use

Heavy drinking can lead to problems like chronic pancreatitis, which increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. If you choose to drink, limit your intake to no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks a day.

  • Key references
    • Dbouk M, Katona BW, Brand RE, Chak A, Syngal S, Farrell JJ, Kastrinos F, Stoffel EM, Blackford AL, Rustgi AK, Dudley B, Lee LS, Chhoda A, Kwon R, Ginsberg GG, Klein AP, Kamel I, Hruban RH, He J, Shin EJ, Lennon AM, Canto MI, Goggins M. The Multicenter Cancer of Pancreas Screening Study: Impact on Stage and Survival. J Clin Oncol. 2022 Oct 1;40(28):3257-3266. Doi: 10.1200/JCO.22.00298. Epub 2022 Jun 15. PMID: 35704792; PMCID: PMC9553376.
    • Yadav D, Lowenfels AB. The epidemiology of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Gastroenterology. 2013 Jun;144(6):1252-61. Doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2013.01.068. PMID: 23622135; PMCID: PMC3662544.
    • Rawla P, Sunkara T, Gaduputi V. Epidemiology of Pancreatic Cancer: Global Trends, Etiology and Risk Factors. World J Oncol. 2019 Feb;10(1):10-27. Doi: 10.14740/wjon1166. Epub 2019 Feb 26. PMID: 30834048; PMCID: PMC6396775.
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