In a new public service announcement, longtime "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek, who has chronicled the treatment and progression of his stage 4 pancreatic cancer, urges that we be aware of the symptoms of this almost invariably fatal disease.
"In nearly every country, pancreatic cancer is the only major cancer with a five-year survival rate in the single digits," says the 79-year-old Trebek in the minutelong PSA released Wednesday by the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition, which has designated Nov. 21 World Pancreatic Cancer Day to raise awareness.
"I wish I had known sooner that the persistent stomach pain I experienced prior to my diagnosis was a symptom of pancreatic cancer,” says Trebek, who has continued to host his syndicated game show through his treatment since his March diagnosis. "Other common symptoms can include mid-back pain, unexplained weight loss, new onset diabetes and the yellowing of the skin or eyes," referring to jaundice, according to the National Cancer Institute, which adds to the list light-colored stools, dark urine, loss of appetite and extreme tiredness.
The WPCC, a coalition of 80 organizations from 30 countries, says pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of only 2 to 9 percent worldwide, with more than 1,184 people dying daily from the disease. The National Cancer Institute estimates 56,770 new cases in 2019 — 3.4 percent of all new cancer cases but 7.5 percent of all cancer deaths. While the cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown, risk factors include smoking, being very overweight, having a family history of it or of pancreatitis or diabetes, and certain hereditary conditions.
Because there is no screening test, the WPCC suggests that anyone experiencing persistent symptoms mention pancreatic cancer to their health care provider. Patients diagnosed at an earlier stage when surgery is an option are more likely to live five years and beyond, the coalition says.
"Participate this November by wearing purple, spreading the word on social media and visiting WorldPancreaticCancerDay.org to learn more," Trebek concludes in the PSA. "Together, we can get it done."