Most cases of pancreatic cancer develop for unknown reasons, but about 10 percent occur in families that have a strong history of the disease. That doesn’t mean that if you are a member of such a family you will develop pancreatic cancer, but rather that you are at a higher risk for it.
“Research has shown that familial pancreatic cancer is not as rare as we had thought,” says Dr. Matthew Yurgelun, a specialist in the Pancreas and Biliary Tumor Center and the Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.
Pancreatic cancer, which is often deadly, is diagnosed in about 53,000 people in the United States each year. Factors such as older age, smoking, and obesity increase the risk.
Familial pancreatic cancer, or FPC, refers to families in which at least three members, or two or more individuals who are first-degree relatives (a parent, child, or sibling) of one another, have been diagnosed with the disease. Healthy individuals in such families have an increased risk of developing the cancer during their lifetimes – several times higher than the 1.3 percent lifetime risk for non-familial pancreatic cancer.