Pancreatic cancer occurs when cells in the pancreas start to mutate. These mutations cause the cells to grow uncontrollably. They accumulate to form a tumor, frequently malignant, eventually leading to metastases and ultimately death.

Located behind the stomach, the pancreas is responsible for secreting digestive enzymes that help with digestion. It is also responsible for secreting insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream. When pancreatic cells experience damage to their DNA, the abnormality causes the cells to grow and divide at a rapid rate. This results in a malignancy. Eventually, cancer cells from the pancreas travel to other parts of the body. Pancreatic cancer is highly aggressive and can be catastrophic if not caught at its earliest stages.

The causes of pancreatic cancer are varied but in many cases, there is no one risk factor that can be linked to a person’s diagnosis. However, some of the factors that can increase a person’s risk for developing pancreatic cancer include:

Smoking. This is the most concrete connection to lifestyle and pancreatic cancer. Research has shown that smokers have nearly double the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Obesity. A lifestyle of poor eating habits and inactivity can significantly increase a person’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Diabetes. There is still a lack of information regarding the diabetes/pancreatic cancer connection. While there’s no evidence as of yet that those with diabetes are at higher risk for developing pancreatic cancer, the two conditions have been linked through research.

Genetics. Family history does appear to play a role in pancreatic cancer. Approximately five to ten percent of pancreatic cancer patients also have a family member that has the disease. It’s enough for continued research to be in order.

Nearly one in 76 people will develop pancreatic cancer in their lifetime which makes it one of the least common forms of cancer diagnoses. Its aggressiveness, however, and the fact that the disease is so often not detected until it is well under way, makes it one of the deadliest forms of cancer. With so much on the line, there continues to be significant research dollars invested in finding out as much about how the disease develops as possible.