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Alex Trebek, the popular and longtime host of the game show Jeopardy!, announced this week that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The 78-year-old Trebek said he planned to fight the disease with the love and support of family and friends, but also acknowledged the prognosis can be tough.
Pancreatic cancer is a particularly deadly form of the disease. The American Cancer Society estimates that in the United States about 56,770 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019 and about 45,750 will die of it. Less than 10 percent of people diagnosed survive five years.
Matthew Adess, MD, Hematology/Oncology at NorthShore, treats pancreatic and other cancers, and says the problem is pancreatic cancer is often hard to diagnose. “By the time it is diagnosed it’s often in an advanced stage,” he explains.
At NorthShore, physicians and researchers are using personalized medicine techniques, analyzing a patients’ genetic make-up or the genetic make-up of tumors, to better help direct therapy. Still, it’s an uphill climb. While significant gains have been made in fighting other cancers and death rates are dropping, the progress with pancreatic cancer has been slower.
“People have to understand what they’re facing,” says Adess. “But at the same time there are patients who have exceeded expectations. Everyone deserves the chance to fight this and to maybe have that great response. Every case is different.”
Chemotherapy, even when not curative, can sometimes prolong life and improve symptoms for patients. “I have patients who have had chemo and are traveling, spending time with their families and living their lives,” says Adess. “We strive to extend life but improving quality of life is very important, too.”