It’s a dreaded diagnosis: stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
Peril! Host Alex Trebek died on Sunday from an illness that affects more than 56,000 Americans a year – most of whom will also die from it.
Although pancreatic cancer only accounts for 3% of all cancers in the United States, it is rarely fatal, accounting for 7% of all cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.
This is partly because it is rarely detected early, when the chances of treatment success and survival would be higher.
The pancreas, the fish-shaped organ that secretes insulin, is deep inside the body, so a tumor often remains hidden until the malignant cells have spread to other parts. of the body, causing symptoms.
When the cancer is still confined to the pancreas, surgery is a treatment option. But once it has spread, chemotherapy is the perfect solution – as a way to extend life, not to cure disease. Targeted therapies and immunotherapies are seen as the most promising treatment routes as researchers rush to find new methods of early detection, including genetic testing to identify those most at risk and screening ultrasounds for those with a family history.
“Chemotherapy is really the norm in how we treat pancreatic cancer. But we have seen advancements in our molecular and genetic approach to the disease, ”said Victoria Manax, medical director of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, referring to targeted treatments that have led to breakthroughs in breast cancer and others. types of cancer.
“Historically, targeted therapies have failed with pancreatic cancer, but now we’re starting to see different subsets of pancreatic cancer where there is promise. It’s still a small percentage, ”she said, adding that even failures broaden researchers’ understanding of the disease.
“This year, our treatment recommendation is that molecular profiles be established for all patients with pancreatic cancer.”
Less than 10 percent of patients with pancreatic cancer survive for five years. But for stage 4 patients, that drops to 3%. And advanced tumors can be vicious, killing them in a matter of months.
There are, of course, patients who refuse to wait. And Trebek hopes to be one of them. “Now, normally, the prognosis is not very encouraging, but I will fight against this and I will continue to work,” he said, announcing his illness.
Trebek lived 20 months after being diagnosed. He responded well to a first round of chemotherapy, but returned and eventually switched to experimental immunotherapy treatment.
Other well-known figures who have succumbed to pancreatic cancer include Patrick Swayze, who lived 18 months after his stage 4 diagnosis, and Apple founder Steve Jobs, who had a less common and less fatal form of disease and lived for eight years. undergoing surgery and liver transplantation during this time.
The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also had pancreatic cancer, but it was detected early on, by accident during a CT scan. Only one small lesion was removed by surgery in 2009, but it returned this summer as stage 4 disease and eventually died.
Americans have a lifetime risk of between 1 in 63 and 1 in 64 of developing pancreatic cancer.
The main risk factors include smoking and obesity. The risk also increases with age. The average age of diagnosis is 71 years; Trebek was 78 years old. Men are a little more likely than women to develop it, and African Americans are at slightly higher risk. A family history of pancreatic cancer and a history of diabetes or cirrhosis of the liver are also associated with a higher risk.
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