Trebek, 80, died Sunday, about 20 months after he announced he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer — more than twice as long as the average patient survives after diagnosis, according to the Hirshberg Foundation for pancreatic cancer research.
Since July, Civil rights icon John Lewis and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also died of pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of cancer.
Fewer than 10 percent of people live five years after being diagnosed, according to American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
Why survival rates are so low
A lack of cost-effective screenings that can reliably detect cancer for people without symptoms make it difficult to diagnose.
As a result, most cases are diagnosed at advanced stages — often Stage 4, when the cancer has spread to other parents of the body. In December, Rep. John Lewis announced he had been diagnosed with State 4 pancreatic cancer. cancer. Ginsburg, by contrast, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2009 that was discovered during a regular checkup.
Ginsburg’s cancer was discovered during a regular checkup and, after she had surgery to treat it she lived for more than a decade — a rarity among those who have pancreatic cancer.
Most people diagnosed with the cancer are not candidates for surgery because the cancer has metastasize – spread outside of the pancreas to other parts of the body. And although treatment is available, pancreatic cancer is considered largely incurable.
The chances of getting pancreatic cancer are about 1 in 64, according to the American Cancer Society. The ACS reports those chances are affected by specific risk factors that can be controlled such as:
— People who smoke are about twice as likely to get it.
— People who are “very overweight” face a 20% higher chance of getting it.
— Diabetes, especially Type 2, puts people at increased risk.
— Chronic inflammation of the pancreas, commonly linked with smoking and heavy alcohol use, increases the chances.
Other factors include age (at least two-thirds of patients are 65 or older), gender (men are slightly more likely to get it), race (Black people are slightly more likely than white people to et it) and inherited gene mutations (found in 10% of cases).
What are the symptoms?
Before the diagnosis, Trebek said, he experienced persistent stomach pains, and John Hopkins Medicine reports that a dull pain in the upper abdomen or upper back is common.
“This is probably caused by a tumor that has formed in the body or tail of the pancreas because it can press on the spine,’’ according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Some patients describe pain starting in the middle abdomen and radiating into the back. Pain can be worse when lying down and can often be relieved by leaning forward. Pancreatic cancer pain can differ from person to person…’’
Symptoms can include jaundice, pain and weight loss.
Pancreatic cancer research
Last month, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted “orphan drug designation’’ for a new generation of antibody therapeutics designed to treatment pancreatic cancer and other types of cancer. “Orphan drug designation” means special status to a drug or biological product a rare disease or condition upon request of a sponsor, according to the FDA.
“Orphan drug designation qualifies the sponsor for various development incentives, including tax credits for qualified clinical testing, up to seven years of marketing exclusivity for the orphan indication and waiver of certain FDA fees,’’ Apexigen, Inc., the company developing the research, said in a statement.
November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alex Trebek dead at 80: Why pancreatic cancer is so deadly