Pancreatic Cancer: Understanding the Hereditary Risk Factors
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, with a five-year survival rate of just 12 percent. While the exact causes of pancreatic cancer are not fully understood, it is widely believed that certain factors, such as genetics, can play a role in its development. In this article, we will explore the link between pancreatic cancer and genetics and answer the question: is pancreatic cancer hereditary?
What Is Pancreatic Cancer?
Pancreatic cancer occurs in the pancreas, a gland in the abdomen that produces enzymes that aid in digestion and hormones that help regulate blood sugar levels. Pancreatic cancer typically develops when abnormal cells in the pancreas grow out of control, forming a tumor. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer may include abdominal pain, jaundice, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue.
Is Pancreatic Cancer Hereditary?
While not all cases of pancreatic cancer are hereditary, research has shown that genetics can play a role in the development of the disease. In fact, it is estimated that inherited genetic mutations may cause up to ten percent of pancreatic cancer cases.
Several genetic syndromes have been linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. These include:
1. Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOC)
This syndrome is caused by mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and is known to increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. However, it has also been linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer, particularly in individuals with a family history.
2. Lynch Syndrome
This syndrome is caused by gene mutations that help repair DNA damage and is known to increase the risk of several types of cancer, including colorectal, endometrial, and pancreatic cancer.
3. Familial Atypical Multiple Mole Melanoma (FAMMM) Syndrome
This syndrome is caused by mutations in the CDKN2A gene and is known to increase the risk of melanoma and pancreatic cancer.
4. Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome
This syndrome is caused by mutations in the STK11 gene and is known to increase the risk of several types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer.
In addition to these genetic syndromes, several genes have been identified as potential risk factors for pancreatic cancer. These include:
KRAS: This gene is involved in cell growth and division and is mutated in up to 95 percent of pancreatic cancer cases.
ATM: The ATM gene is important for repairing damage to cells, so if it is mutated, cells can't repair damage as well and are more likely to become cancerous.
CDKN2A: This gene regulates cell growth and is often mutated in individuals with a family history of pancreatic cancer.
TP53: This gene regulates cell division and is often mutated in individuals with a family history of several types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer.
BRCA1/2: As mentioned earlier, mutations in these genes increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
What Can You Do If You Are At Risk?
Suppose you have a family history of pancreatic cancer or have been diagnosed with one of the genetic syndromes or risk genes mentioned above. In that case, talking to your doctor about your risk of developing the disease is important. Your doctor may recommend regular screenings, such as imaging (Typically Endoscopic Ultrasound/EUS, or MRI) and blood tests (measurement of the CA 19-9 marker), to monitor for the early signs of pancreatic cancer.
In addition to regular screenings, several lifestyle changes may help reduce your risk of developing pancreatic cancer, including:
Quitting Smoking: Smoking is a known risk factor for several types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
Limiting Alcohol Consumption: Heavy alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
Know Your Risk and Take Action
While pancreatic cancer is a devastating disease, it is important to remember that not all cases are hereditary. However, if you have a family history of the disease or have been diagnosed with one of the genetic syndromes or risk genes mentioned above, it is important to talk to your doctor about your risk and develop a plan for regular screenings and lifestyle changes to help reduce your risk of developing pancreatic cancer. By staying informed and taking action, you can take control of your health and reduce your risk of developing this deadly disease.
Learn more about pancreatic and digestive health with help from an expert like Dr. Stuart Akerman, MD. As a board-certified gastroenterologist in Dallas, TX, Dr. Akerman has extensive experience in gastrointestinal diseases and endoscopic procedures. He's also been a trusted resource for GI patients seeking advice and treatment. If you have concerns about your digestive health or pancreatic cancer, don't hesitate to seek the help of a qualified specialist like Dr. Akerman. Together, you can work towards a healthier future.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that this blog is intended for Informational Use only and is not intended to replace personal evaluation and treatment by a medical provider. The information provided on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Please consult your doctor for any information related to your personal care.