After the sadness caused by the recent death of television personality Alex Trebek from pancreatic cancer, some have wondered about the disease’s frequency and deadliness.
“Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is a lethal and increasingly common disease we face in medicine,” said Dr. Roger Blake, a general surgeon at Greenwood Leflore Hospital.
“Pancreatic cancer is currently the eighth most common cancer in the U.S. In Mississippi alone, we expect 17,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer and over 7,000 deaths from pancreatic cancer this year.”
Blake said, “In 2020, it is the third most common cause of cancer death in the U.S. In fact, at its current pace, it will bypass colon cancer in annual cancer deaths and become the second most common cause of cancer deaths by 2030.”
Nine out of 10 patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer succumb to the disease within five years of diagnosis.
Trebek, 80, was primarily known as the host of “Jeopardy!,” the second most syndicated game show behind “Family Feud.” “Jeopardy!” averages 23 million viewers per week, according to Variety.
In March of last year, Trebek announced he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. On Sunday, he died of complications from the disease. After his death, many spoke about what the game show host meant to them.
Ken Jennings, perhaps the best-known “Jeopardy!” contestant, who won more than 70 games on the quiz show, said, “Alex wasn’t just the best ever at what he did. He was also a lovely and deeply decent man, and I’m grateful for every minute I got to spend with him.”
Trebek’s loss also has led to discussions about pancreatic cancer and the threat it poses.
Blake said the illness mostly affects an older population, saying that it is rarer for patients under the age of 45, and is “slightly more common in men and African Americans.”
He said the cancer is deadly for, among other things, the lack of clear early symptoms.
“Unfortunately, most early pancreatic cancers are silent and have no detectible signs or symptoms. Oftentimes, by the time it becomes symptomatic, it is more difficult to cure,” he said.
However, Blake said that some signs and symptoms may include persistent abdominal and back pain, weight loss, anemia and yellowing of skin or eyes.
According to Blake, as medicine advances, two of the bigger areas in which there is hopeful progress are immunotherapy, or using the body’s immune system to fight cancer, and manipulating the gut microbiome, which is the practice of understanding the relationship between the body’s internal bacteria and disease.
He added that the best preventive measures against the disease are “not smoking or smoking cessation, weight loss and regular exercise.”
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