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Signs You Have the Cancer That Killed Alex Trebek

Here’s what pancreatic cancer looks like.

Pancreatic cancer affects around 62,000 Americans every year, accounting for 3% of all cancers in the US and approximately 7% of all cancer deaths. Beloved former Jeopardy host Alex Trebek passed away from pancreatic cancer on November 8, 2020, after being diagnosed in March 2019. "The treatment that we have right now is extremely better than the one we had 10 years ago, but we are still not able to fully control the disease in the majority of patients," says Marco Del Chiaro, MD, division chief of surgical oncology at the CU Department of Surgery. "We improved a lot in the last decade, but there is still a long way in front of us." Here are five signs of pancreatic cancer, 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.


Pancreatitis and Pancreatic Cancer


​Research shows pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) is linked to pancreatic cancer. "Our study demonstrates that there is a much higher risk of pancreatic cancer in patients with acute pancreatitis than commonly believed," says Banke Agarwal, MD, associate professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at Saint Louis University.


Pain In the Upper Abdomen

man holding a glass of water

Pain in the upper abdomen is a common sign of pancreatic disease, experts say. "As tumors on the pancreas grow, they often push against these other body parts, which can be very painful," says pancreatic cancer researcher Shubham Pant, MD.


Are You Obese?

Doctor measuring obese man waist body fat. Obesity and weight loss

Obesity is a modifiable risk factor with pancreatic cancer—meaning lifestyle choices can make a difference. "Obesity certainly plays a role in pancreatic cancer incidence, but it's one of many risk factors," says Victoria Manax Rutson, MD. "Pancreatic cancer doesn't discriminate, which is why we need to continue research for better treatments and early detection."




Smoking is (obviously) terrible for your health, but especially dangerous when it comes to pancreatic cancer risk. "People who smoke are two times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer compared to those who don't," says Joseph Herman, MD, MSc, a member of the Scientific and Medical Advisory Board at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN). "About 20 to 30% of exocrine pancreatic cancer cases – the most common kind of pancreatic cancer – are thought to be attributable to smoking."


Diabetes and Pancreatic Cancer


Pancreatic cancer and diabetes are closely linked, doctors say. "It is possible that, in some patients, diabetes leads to development of pancreatic cancer. It is also possible pancreatic cancer leads to development of diabetes," says Max Petrov, MD, PhD, MPH, professor of pancreatology at The University of Auckland School of Medicine. 


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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