Alex Trebek dies from pancreatic cancer: What you need to know

Nearly 47,000 people will die this year from pancreatic cancer in 2020, according to the American Cancer Society. Alex Trebek, the beloved “Jeopardy!” host, is now included in this number. Pancreatic cancer remains the nation’s 3rd leading cause of cancer deaths, after lung and colon cancer.

Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is difficult to find early and most people don’t display symptoms until it has advanced and spread. Therefore, the strong majority — up to 80 percent — are diagnosed at later stages when it is more difficult to treat.

Compared with many other cancers, the combined five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer (the percentage of all patients who are living five years after diagnosis) is just 5 to 10 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. Stage IV pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of just 1 percent.

Representative John Lewis and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also died of pancreatic cancer this year.

Risk factors

The chances of getting pancreatic cancer are about 1 in 64, with risk factors including:

  • Tobacco use
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Long-term inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
  • Age (65 +)
  • Gender (men are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than women)
  • Race (African Americans are at higher risk)
  • Family history/genetics
What are the symptoms?
  • Pain, usually in the abdomen or back
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, eyes or both) with or without itching
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Changes in stool
  • Pancreatitis (swelling of the pancreas)
Testing for pancreatic cancer in people at high risk

The two most common tests used are an endoscopic ultrasound, a procedure that uses sound waves to take pictures of the pancreas, bile duct and digestive tract, or MRI. These tests are not used to screen the general public, but they may be helpful for a person with a family history of pancreatic cancer or with a known genetic syndrome that increases their risk.