Inflammation and the development of pancreatic cancer

Surg Oncol. 2002 May;10(4):153-69. doi: 10.1016/s0960-7404(02)00015-4.


Objective: Pancreatic cancer has an extremely poor prognosis and the cellular mechanisms contributing to pancreatic cancer are relatively unknown. The goals of this review are to present the epidemiological and experimental data that supports inflammation as a key mediator of pancreatic cancer development, to explain how inflammatory pathways may create an environment that supports tumor formation, and to discuss how the use of novel agents directed at these pathways may be used for the treatment of pancreatic malignancy.

Summary background data: Inflammation has been identified as a significant factor in the development of other solid tumor malignancies. Both hereditary and sporadic forms of chronic pancreatitis are associated with an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. The combined increase in genomic damage and cellular proliferation, both of which are seen with inflammation, strongly favors malignant transformation of pancreatic cells. Cytokines, reactive oxygen species, and mediators of the inflammatory pathway (e.g., NF-kappaB and COX-2) have been shown to increase cell cycling, cause loss of tumor suppressor function, and stimulate oncogene expression; all of which may lead to pancreatic malignancy. Anti-cytokine vaccines, inhibitors of pro-inflammatory NF-kappaB and COX-2 pathways, thiazolidinediones, and anti-oxidants are potentially useful for the prevention or treatment of pancreatic cancer. Redirection of experimental interests toward pancreatic inflammation and mechanisms of carcinogenesis may identify other novel anti-inflammatory agents or other ways to screen for or prevent pancreatic cancer.

Conclusion: Pancreatic inflammation, mediated by cytokines, reactive oxygen species, and upregulated pro-inflammatory pathways, may play a key role in the early development of pancreatic malignancy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma / etiology*
  • Carcinoma / immunology
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • DNA Damage
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / complications
  • Interleukin-1 / metabolism
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / immunology
  • Pancreatitis / complications*
  • Pancreatitis / immunology
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases / metabolism
  • Risk Factors
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism


  • Cytokines
  • Interleukin-1
  • Isoenzymes
  • Membrane Proteins
  • NF-kappa B
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • PTGS2 protein, human
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases