What it means to have pancreatic cancer

Posted at 9:04 PM, Mar 06, 2019

On Wednesday, long-time Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek announced that he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer, a cancer responsible for 7 percent of all US cancer deaths, according to the CDC.

According to the CDC, pancreatic cancer "is a cancer that forms in the pancreas, the thin, pear-shaped gland behind the stomach. The pancreas plays an important role in the digestive system by producing fluids to help break down food and hormones to control blood sugar levels."

Increased risk factors for pancreatic cancer include smoking, being obese, having diabetes and having certain hereditary conditions.

According to the American Cancer Society , having stage 4 pancreatic cancer carries a 9-percent survival rate over five years. This fact was one Trebek acknowledged to fans in a video released by the game show on Wednesday.

“I plan to beat the low survival rate statistics for this disease," Trebek said.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 56,770 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019. In 2019, the organization estimates 45,750 people will die of the cancer.

"A relative survival rate compares people with the same type and stage of pancreatic cancer to people in the overall population," the American Cancer Society says on its website. "For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific stage of pancreatic cancer is 90%, it means that people who have that cancer are, on average, about 90% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed."

While the survival rate for many cancers have improved with modern medicine, the survival rate for pancreatic cancer has not improved much in the last 40 years, according to the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research .

The symptoms caused by pancreatic cancer are vague, and could be caused by other diseases, the Hirshberg Foundation said.

"Pancreatic cancer may cause only vague symptoms that could indicate many different conditions within the abdomen or gastrointestinal tract," the Hirshberg Foundation said on its website. "Symptoms include pain (usually abdominal or back pain), weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), loss of appetite, nausea, changes in stool, and diabetes."

The foundation added that there are no accurate early detection tools for pancreatic cancer, which means the cancer is rarely caught at a time when a tumor could be easily removed from the patient.

Treatment involves surgery, ablation or embolization treatments, radiation therapy, or different types of medicines, the American Cancer Society says.

Trebek's contract with Jeopardy expires in 2022, and Trebek said he remains committed to continue hosting the game show he has hosted since 1984.

"Normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I'm going to fight this, and I'm going to keep working," Trebek said.