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Is pancreatic cancer hereditary?

The pancreas is a glandular organ behind the stomach and in front of the spine. It produces gastric juices, enzymes that break down food, and several hormones that help control blood glucose levels. A tumor starts developing when there’s an abnormal growth of the cells that form this gland, which is why pancreatic cancer occurs. In this post, in addition to knowing all its symptoms and causes, we investigate the relationship between genetics and pancreatic cancer to find out if its inheritance. 

 

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is caused by malfunctioning the cells that form it, growing uncontrollably, and developing a tumor. As it grows, it begins to affect the pancreas’ functions and alter nearby organs and blood vessels [1]. 

There are different types of pancreatic cancers depending on the cell in which the tumor develops [2]. The most common type of pancreatic cancer is adenocarcinoma, which begins in the cells lining the ducts that carry digestive enzymes out of the pancreas [3].

Pancreatic Cancer Hereditary

Causes and symptoms of pancreatic cancer

The causes of pancreatic cancer are closely related to lifestyle and environmental factors [2]. For that reason, the risk factors are:

  • Obesity.
  • Diabetes.
  • Tobacco use.
  • A diet high in fat and low in fruits and vegetables.
  • Prolonged exposure to certain chemicals.
  • Chronic inflammation of the pancreas (acute pancreatitis).

Additionally, the risk of pancreatic cancer increases with age. Family history of the disease may also signify a risk factor, thus finding some relationship between pancreatic cancer and genetics [2]. 

The most common symptoms in the development of pancreatic cancer are [3]:

  • Diarrhea.
  • Dark urine and light stools.
  • Fatigue and weakness.
  • Increased blood sugar (diabetes).
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, mucous membranes, or sclerae of the eyes).
  • Itching of the skin.
  • Unintentional loss of appetite and weight loss.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen or belly that may radiate to the back.

This tumor can develop in the pancreas without suffering symptoms at first, leading to late diagnosis of the disease, discovering it when it is already advanced and has spread to different body organs [2].

 

Treatment for pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer can be challenging to treat, and different methods are used depending on the tumor stage. 

If the tumor has not spread to different organs, surgery can remove it. Indeed, this would only be possible in 15-20% of cases [4]. Radiotherapy or chemotherapy may also be used along with surgery.

Chemotherapy is generally used when the tumor has spread to different body organs, such as the liver. In cases where the cancer is very advanced, the aim is to palliate the pain and symptoms it may cause [2]. 

Pancreatic Cancer Genetic Predisposition

Relationship between pancreatic cancer and genetics

Some relationship between genetics and the pancreatic tumor has been demonstrated, but does pancreatic cancer run in families?

In addition to environmental risk factors and lifestyle, it’s been shown that there’s some genetic component, developed as a syndrome, in the evolution of pancreatic cancer. In cases where this genetic abnormality is detected, hereditary pancreatic cancer would appear [5].

The syndromes or hereditary conditions that have been associated with this type of cancer are [6]:

– Multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome type 1.

– Lynch syndrome.

– von Hippel-Lindau syndrome.

– Peutz-Jeghers syndrome.

– Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome.

– Familial melanoma syndrome with multiple atypical moles.

– Hereditary pancreatitis. 

– Ataxia telangiectasia.

 

At 24Genetics, we know the importance of acting early in developing pancreatic cancer, trying to prevent it from spreading and affecting other organs. For this reason, whether there is a family history of pancreatic cancer or not, genetics can tell us if there is a predisposition to suffer from this type of tumor throughout our lives. 

Our 24Genetics health test can be easily performed anywhere in the world, from the comfort of your home. So please find the most comprehensive genetic test on the market on our website and receive them at home comfortably.

 

Bibliography

  1. Pancreatic cancer – Introduction. Cancer.Net. [Accessed March 2023] Available at: https://www.cancer.net/es/tipos-de-c%C3%A1ncer/c%C3%A1ncer-de-p%C3%A1ncreas/introducci%C3%B3n 
  2. Pancreatic cancer. MedlinePlus. [Accessed March 2023]. Available at: https://medlineplus.gov/spanish/ency/article/000236.htm 
  3. Pancreatic cancer – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. [Accessed March 2023]. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/es-es/diseases-conditions/pancreatic-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20355421 
  4. SciELO – Scientific Electronic Library Online. [Accessed March 2023]. Disponible en: https://www.scielo.sa.cr/scielo.php?pid=S1409-00152018000100003 
  5. Pancreatic cancer; is it hereditary?. DNA Institut. [Accessed March 2023]. Available at: https://www.adninstitut.com/cancer-de-pancreas-es-hereditario-n-57-es 
  6. Adult pancreatic cancer treatment (PDQ®)-Patient version. National Cancer Institute. [Accessed March 2023]. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/espanol/tipos/pancreas/paciente/tratamiento-pancreas-pdq

Written by Manuel de la Mata

Geneticist

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