After Alex Trebek's diagnosis, St. Louis health officials warn public about pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States

Fred Bodimer
March 12, 2019 - 2:08 am

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — Alex Trebek's announcement that he has pancreatic cancer has raised new awareness of the disease.  

Fifty thousand Americans receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis each year.

SLU Care's Dr. Ratna Varma is a pancreatic cancer specialist and abdominal surgeon at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital

"Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States," said Dr Varma. "It is a pretty life-changing, life-altering cancer when compared to other cancers because the mortality rate in the long-term is pretty high.  The five-year survival rate is around 8-percent -- that means of a hundred patients you start off with -- and this is all cases -- only eight will still be alive at the end of five years."

If it is caught early enough and surgery is possible to remove the cancer, the five-year survival rate is 20 percent, says Dr. Varma.

Trebek says he has stage four pancreatic cancer.

Related: 'Jeopardy!' host Alex Trebek diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer

"So Stage 4 has the worst prognosis," says Dr. Varma.  "The survival rate is at the best six to eight months, believe it or not."

Pancreatic cancer is hard to catch early -- that's why survival rates are so low.  There is no simple pancreatic cancer screening test, other than imaging in high risk cases. 
But Dr. Varma says there are some simple prevention tips to keep in mind.

"Don't smoke", says Dr. Varma.  "That's the most important, avoidable risk factor.  So quitting smoking does help lower risk.  Also, you have to stay at a healthy weight.  Getting to and staying at a healthy rate might also help lower the risk."
 Also, Dr. Varma says limit alcohol use.

Pancreatic cancer is also more likely in those with diabetes, but study results aren't entirely clear if diabetes is a cause or a result.