Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer graphicFind out more about pancreatic cancer, including how common it is and ways to reduce your risk.

On this page:

> How common is pancreatic cancer?
> What is pancreatic cancer?
> Who’s at risk?
> What are the risk factors?
> How can you reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer?

How common is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is the ninth most common cancer in the UK. In 2019, 11,031 cases of pancreatic cancer were diagnosed*. There were 5,378 cases of pancreatic cancer in women, and 5,653 pancreatic cancer cases in men.

What is pancreatic cancer?

The pancreas is a gland and is about 15cm long. It’s found behind your stomach and in front of your spine. It has a head, a middle section (called the body), and a narrow end (called the tail).

The pancreas has two main roles in your body. It produces:

  • digestive enzymes that help to digest (break down) food
  • hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, that help to control blood sugar levels

These hormones help your body use and store the energy it gets from food.

Your pancreas has two main types of cells. Exocrine cells produce digestive enzymes and endocrine cells produce hormones. The majority of pancreatic cancers start in the exocrine cells.

Pancreatic cancer develops when a change in the cells of the pancreas causes them to grow uncontrollably.

Who is most at risk of pancreatic cancer?

As with all cancers, the risk of developing pancreatic cancer depends on a number of factors and varies from person to person. Pancreatic cancer mostly affects men and women aged 50 and over.

Risk factors

  • Age – risk increases as you get older
  • Height – taller individuals are at greater risk
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Smoking/using tobacco
  • Other medical conditions – some conditions, such as diabetes, can increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer

If any of these risk factors apply to you, it does not mean that you will develop pancreatic cancer – it just means that your risk may be higher than average.

How can you reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer?

The good news is that there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk. This advice is based on research from our Global Cancer Update Programme (CUP Global).

1. Be a healthy weight​

Our researchers have found that being overweight or obese, and carrying extra weight around your waist, increases your risk of pancreatic cancer. Try our body mass index calculator and waist measurement guide to check if you are a healthy weight and shape.

2. Don’t smoke

If you do smoke, stopping smoking will reduce your risk. The NHS stop smoking service can help you quit.

> Visit NHS Choices and Pancreatic Cancer UK to find out about the symptoms and treatment of pancreatic cancer.

*Cancer statistics based on combined data from EnglandScotlandNorthern Ireland and Wales. World Cancer Research Fund, 2020.