When it comes to the organs you know you’re supposed to monitor, your heart, brain, and colon probably jump to the top of your mind. Your pancreas? Not so much.
But longtime Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek brought some much-needed attention to the overlooked organ after announcing he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The host shared the news in a video message on Wednesday.
Although pancreatic cancer is rarer than other forms of the disease, it's also among the most deadly. And the stage 4 pancreatic cancer survival rate is particularly low. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 55,440 people were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018, and 44,330 will die from it. Only about 8 percent of all people with pancreatic cancer survive five years after the initial diagnosis, according to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER). The five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed with metastatic, or stage 4, pancreatic cancer is 3 percent. Once patients are in this stage, the cancer has spread to other organs, like the liver or lung.
What's even more frightening? Pancreatic cancer is hard to detect, and it's not subject to routine screenings. Plus, it can also spread to other organs early on, explains Daniel M. Labow, M.D., F.A.C.S., chair of the department of surgery for Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai St. Luke’s, and chief of surgical oncology and hepatobiliary surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
While not everyone with pancreatic cancer will exhibit early symptoms, knowing what to look out for can help doctors treat it as soon as possible, which significantly raises your chances of survival. Here are some possible signs of pancreatic cancer - including some that your doctor probably never told you about.