Alex Trebek has been the host of the beloved gameshow Jeopardy! since 1984. Although he was supposed to retire this year, he decided to renew his contract through 2022. But the iconic host recently revealed the devastating news that he’s been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, one of the most difficult-to-treat cancers. Nothing seems to stop Trebek, though, as he assured his fans that he will beat this tenacious disease.
In a video directed to his fans, Trebek said, “Now normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I’m going to fight this, and I’m going to keep working. I plan to beat the low survival rate statistics for this disease.”
What is pancreatic cancer and why is it so deadly?
According to the National Cancer Institute, 1.6 percent of people living in the U.S. will receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis in their lifetimes. The U.S. saw over 55,000 cases last year alone. Considered a rare cancer, it only accounts for about 3% of all cancers in the U.S., but it’s one that most people don’t overcome. The pancreas is an organ located towards the back of the abdomen, sitting horizontally across the body. Its job is to produce enzymes that help the body to digest food and hormones that help to keep the body’s blood sugar in check. When cells in the organ begin to grow and spread quickly and irregularly, cancer can develop.
The biggest problem with the disease is that it doesn’t often produce symptoms until it is very advanced. People with pancreatic cancer usually feel pain in the back or stomach along with sudden, unintentional weight loss and jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes. It’s most often diagnosed in patients over age 45, with the average age at diagnosis being 71. The cancer has usually advanced to stage 3 or 4 by the time a patient has symptoms.
Pancreatic cancer has highest mortality rate of all cancers, and chances of long-term survival for those afflicted by it are low. The National Cancer Institute reported that a study showed only about 9% of pancreatic cancer patients were still alive after 5 years. Most oncologists treat cancers first by cutting them out of the body. Unfortunately, most patients with pancreatic cancer aren’t even eligible for surgery. Patients can receive chemotherapy, but the drug doesn’t cure the disease, it prolongs life.
What’s the outlook for Trebek and other pancreatic cancer patients?
Although the prognosis is grim, researchers are working hard every day to innovate treatments and figure out a way to fight the devastating disease. A clinical trial is currently at work to try and see if new drugs have any effect. The disease does not get as much funding and attention as some other cancers like breast and colorectal, but the more public figures like Trebek speak out, the more they can bring awareness to the disease. Awareness, funding, and research are the only ways to get closer to a cure.