America’s collective heart broke when national treasure and longtime ‘Jeopardy’ host Alex Trebek announced he has been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. We’ve got five things to know about the disease.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most devastating forms of the disease to be diagnosed with, as it has almost no symptoms early on and usually isn’t detected until it’s in the later stages. That’s why so many Americans were absolutely heartbroken when beloved Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, 78, announced on March 6 that he’s been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for people with stage 4 pancreatic cancer is approximately 1 percent, and many patients don’t make it a year past their diagnosis. The disease also took the life of longtime Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld on Feb. 19. We’ve got five things to know about pancreatic cancer.
1. Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect until it has reached stage four.
Almost all incidences of the disease aren’t caught until it’s in stage four, which means the cancer cells have already spread to other parts of the body, typically the liver and lungs. The disease tends not to show symptoms early on, which with other forms of cancer allows doctors to treat the disease before it spreads. According to Cancer.net, “there are no specific, cost-effective screening tests that can easily and reliably find early-stage pancreatic cancer in people who have no symptoms. This means it is often not found until later stages when the cancer can no longer be removed with surgery and has spread from the pancreas to other parts of the body.”
2. The pancreas is an essential organ in the human body.
“It plays an essential role in converting the food we eat into fuel for the body’s cells. The pancreas has two main functions: an exocrine function that helps in digestion and an endocrine function that regulates blood sugar,” according to the Columbia University Surgical Center. That means it can’t be removed to prevent the disease from occurring.
3. Treatment options for pancreatic cancer can help prolong a patients life, but not save it.
With other cancers that are detected early, a patient will go through chemotherapy and radiation which kills cancer cells, hopefully leading to the cancer going into remission. As with stage four pancreatic cancer, it’s already spread to other organs so chemo is just a way to slow down the cancer’s spread, as it cannot be cured at stage four. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer include jaundice, weight loss, back pain, nausea and vomiting, blood clots and an enlarged liver.
4. The average life expectancy of someone diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer is less than a year.
The median survival rate for stage four pancreatic cancer is between two and six months, according to Cancer Research UK. They note that “this can vary depending on how much the cancer has grown and where it has spread.” There is no direct cause related to developing pancreatic cancer, although the risk increases with age and if a two or more direct family members have battled the disease. Smokers are also twice as likely to get it, as with many other types of cancer caused by tobacco use.
5. Pancreatic cancer is rare, but deadly.
While pancreatic cancer is rare — as Alex said in his heartbreaking revelation it strikes about 50,000 people per year in the U.S., a number backed up by Cancer. net — it is the fourth most common cause of cancer deaths. Of all cancer diagnosis in the U.S. per year, pancreatic cancer makes up only 3% of all cancers according to the site.