While most pancreatic cancers are NOT inherited, about 10 to 15% are caused by a mutation in a single gene passed through the family. Determining if a genetic susceptibility is contributing to a personal and/or family history of cancer may assist in medical decision making. This knowledge may also clarify the cancer risks of relatives, who may be reassured that they have not inherited a familial tendency and therefore do not require intensive screening.

When Should I Suspect A Pancreatic Cancer May Be Hereditary? 

When pancreatic cancer is caused by a mutation in a single gene passed through the family you may see:

  • Pancreatic cancer diagnosed at an early age (e.g. under 50)
  • Multiple family members (blood relatives on the same side of the family) with pancreatic cancer
  • Certain combinations of  related cancers (breast and ovary, colon and uterus, or breast and melanoma)
  • An individual with two or more primary cancers (e.g. breast and pancreatic)
  • Rare tumor types (e.g. male breast cancer, pheochromocytomamedullary thyroid cancer, paraganglioma)
  • Hereditary pancreatitis
  • Multiple (> 25) colon polyps

These features are only guidelines for assessing the risk for hereditary cancers.  When these factors combine with a pattern in the family history that is recognizable to your physician or genetic counselor, it may indicate a hereditary risk for cancer. 

Is There a Test to Determine if Pancreatic Cancer is Hereditary? 

Genetic testing is available for hereditary pancreatic cancer syndromes.  The family history and cancer types in a family are used to determine the likelihood of a hereditary cancer syndrome and, if a syndrome is suspected, which gene(s) should be analyzed.

It is generally most informative if a relative who has had cancer is tested first, to determine if an identifiable gene mutation exists in the family.  If a mutation is identified in an affected relative, at-risk family members may elect to be tested for the familial mutation; those testing positive have a significantly increased risk of developing cancer, while those relatives testing negative may be told that they have the general population risk of developing cancer. 

What Should I Do Now? 

Please use this section as background education. It is not a substitute for a clinical visit to our Center or discussion of a possible hereditary condition with your physician.

  1. Take the next ten to twenty minutes to fill out the online MyGenerations for an initial evaluation of your risk of pancreatic cancer.
  2. Make an appointment with your physician to discuss your risk of cancer.
  3. Make an appointment with the Center for Medical Genetics by calling 847.570. 1029.
  4. Email this page to a friend or loved one that may be at risk.
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