The world is talking about pancreatic cancer after a beloved TV star announced his stage IV diagnosis. But what does that mean, and how is pancreatic cancer treated?
Game show legend Alex Trebek, known to millions around the world as the host of “Jeopardy!”, announced Wednesday, March 7, that he has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
“I plan to beat the low survival-rate statistics for this disease,” Trebek announced in a video posted to the show’s YouTube page. "Truth told, I have to! Because under the terms of my contract, I have to host 'Jeopardy!' for three more years!"
What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is a gland that makes enzymes that help the small intestine digest food. It also makes hormones like insulin and glucagon, which help control the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood.
Cancer, the abnormal growth of cells in the body that can form tumors, is described by experts using the place where the disease first appears. Pancreatic cancer is the term to describe when cancer is found in the pancreas.
Pancreatic cancer treatments could include surgery to remove the cancer, radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
Clinical trials provide hope
“It used to be a death sentence. The survival used to be less than six months if untreated,” Dr. Dembla said. “There has been some slow progress that has been made.”
Clinical trials are studies in a medical setting designed to test new treatments on willing participants. They are part of the process in which new medications gain FDA approval in the United States.
As part of that research, genetic sequencing of cancer cells is performed to identify mutations or aberrations that may respond to drugs currently undergoing clinical trials, Dr. Dembla said.
Some of the newer research regarding PARP inhibitors has been found to be effective, Dr. Dembla said, referring to a targeted therapy involving poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase, or PARP, an enzyme that repairs damaged cells.
Trebek inspires the world
As Trebek tells the world that he plans to beat his cancer, Dr. Dembla applauded him.
“It’s hopeful and encouraging that we have a voice who can reach millions of people and encourage research that will benefit a lot of people,” Dr. Dembla said.
Here are a few statistics about pancreatic cancer, courtesy of the American Cancer Society:
· About 56,770 people (29,940 men and 26,830 women) will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
· About 45,750 people (23,800 men and 21,950 women) will die of pancreatic cancer.
· The average lifetime risk of pancreatic cancer for men is about 1 in 63. For women, the lifetime risk is about 1 in 65.
· The 5-year relative survival rates for “distant” pancreatic cancers, a category that includes stage 4 and describes cancers that have moved beyond their point of origin, is 3 percent.
Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute, a comprehensive cancer treatment and research facility in Spartanburg, S.C., is not involved in Alex Trebek’s treatment.