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Pancreatic Cancer High-Risk Program


​As part of our comprehensive cancer care, UC San Diego Health offers  prevention and screening services for those who may have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. This may be based on (but is not limited to) any of these factors: 

  • Presence of a pancreatic cyst
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer
  • History of pancreatitis
  • Carrying a genetic mutation that increases pancreatic cancer risk

Pancreatic cancer screening is relatively new, but holds great promise in both prevention and in early diagnosis, at a stage when the cancer is more treatable.

Prevention and Screening Services

Patients can be referred by a physician or the Family Cancer Genetics Program. After we thoroughly review your medical records, you will be evaluated by a surgeon and/or gastroenterologist. Your case will then be reviewed by your care team. Your care team will create a personalized plan focusing on prevention, early detection and (if necessary) treatment.

Recommendations may include:

  • Ongoing surveillance (every 6–12 months) for those with a family history or a genetic syndrome associated with pancreatic cancer 
  • Evaluation and diagnosis of pancreatic cysts using technologies such as endoscopic ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 
  • Surveillance or surgical treatment of pancreatic cysts associated with a high risk of cancer development
  • Nutrition and lifestyle changes, including dietary changes (such as increasing vitamin D intake if you are deficient) or smoking cessation
  • Genetic testing to determine whether you have a genetic mutation associated with pancreatic cancer

Testing for Hereditary Pancreatic Cancer

As many as 10 percent of pancreatic cancers are caused by genetic changes or mutations that can be passed from parent to child. Having one first-degree relative (mother, father, brother or sister) with pancreatic cancer can increase the risk to 4 percent. If two or more close relatives have pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most common form of pancreatic cancer, the risk increases to as much as 40 percent. This is often referred to as familial pancreatic cancer.

Our Family Cancer Genetics Program offers genetic testing that can find inherited syndromes that can cause pancreatic cancer, including:

  • Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (BRCA1, BRCA2, PALB2 gene mutations)
  • Familial atypical multiple mole melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome
  • Hereditary (familial) pancreatitis
  • Lynch syndrome (hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer or HNPCC syndrome)
  • Ataxia telangiectasia (ATM gene mutations)

Testing to identify genetic syndromes linked to hereditary pancreatic cancer can be completed with a simple blood or oral swab test. The benefits of knowing you have a genetic mutation associated with pancreatic cancer include the ability to:

  • Develop a personalized screening and prevention plan specific to the genetic mutation and your risk factors based on National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCNN) guidelines
  • Use lifestyle changes — such as exercise, nutrition and smoking cessation — to reduce your risk
  • Inform your first-degree family members to get tested

Appointments & Referrals


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Personalized Cancer Care

UC San Diego Health now uses genetic testing to analyze tumors and tailor cancer treatments to individual patients. See Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy.  

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