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Signs You Have "Deadly Cancer" Like Alex Trebek

Symptoms of the "silent killer," pancreatic cancer, you should never ignore.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Pancreatic cancer accounts for 3% of all cancers in the U.S. and approximately 7% of all cancer deaths. Many patients don't experience symptoms of pancreatic cancer until it's advanced, hence it being known as the "silent killer." Beloved former Jeopardy host Alex Trebek was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in March 2019 and passed away on November 8, 2020. "I'm not afraid of dying," Trebek said in his book The Answer Is. "One thing they're not going to say at my funeral as part of the eulogy is, 'He was taken from us too soon.' I'm about to turn 80. I've lived a good, full life, and I'm nearing the end of it. I know that." Here are five signs of pancreatic cancer you should never ignore, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Sudden Diabetes Diagnosis

Doctor with glucometer and insulin pen device talking to male patient at medical office in hospital.

Sudden diabetes can be a warning sign of pancreatic cancer, experts warn. "One of the symptoms I should bring up because it should prompt people if they develop diabetes suddenly in an older age, you should look at their pancreas because that can be one of the hallmarks," says Matthew Walsh, MD.


Jaundice and Weight Loss

Fat overweight woman measuring her waist

While early-stage pancreatic cancer can be hard to spot, there are certain symptoms to look out for, doctors say. "If you notice unintentional weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin) and stomach pain, we recommend that you see your primary care physician," says surgical oncologist Jin He, M.D., Ph.D.


Upper Abdomen Pain

Asian male patient with abdominal pain on right side belly

"Almost 7 out of 10 people (70%) with pancreatic cancer go to their doctors because they have pain," explains Cancer Research UK. "Pain is more common in cancers of the body and tail of the pancreas. People describe it as a dull pain that feels as if it is boring into you. It can begin in the stomach area and spread around to the back. The pain is worse when you lie down and is better if you sit forward. It can be worse after meals."


You're a Smoker

Man Smoking On Bright Sunny Day Outdoor

"So the only known risk factor is tobacco smoking," says Dr. Walsh. "And obviously, for a lot of reasons, people shouldn't be doing that. There's probably some genetic component, there's some familiar forms, but we don't have that figured out very well and there isn't a genetic test you can do to look for it. As you mentioned, famous people, if you look at Jimmy Carter and his family, a lot of people have had pancreatic cancer except him, interestingly. So there are increased risk with things like chronic pancreatitis, but the only real risk factor is smoking"


How Can I Lower My Pancreatic Cancer Risk?

Doctor in white medical lab coat points ballpoint pen on anatomical model of human or animal pancreas

"Unfortunately, most pancreatic cancer cannot be prevented, but you can reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy weight, stopping smoking and limiting your alcohol intake," says Dr. He. "Other risk factors include chronic pancreatitis and family history. Occasionally, precancerous lesions can be identified and, if removed early, can prevent pancreatic cancer from developing… Yes, it is possible to have a full recovery from pancreatic cancer."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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