ORLANDO, Fla. - Many people are talking about pancreatic cancer after longtime "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek announced this week he was diagnosed with the disease.
Dr. Debashish Bose, with the Orlando Health University of Florida Health Cancer Center, said he gets the same questions from his patients all the time.
"Doc, why did I get this? What did I do wrong? I don't understand," he said.
Bose said there isn't an answer to their questions regarding a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
"What you see in someone like Alex Trebek and others who have gotten pancreatic cancer -- how that came out of the blue. And unfortunately, that's the majority of what we see in pancreatic cancer," Bose said. "We don't really know. There's no direct line to it from something, like there is for cigarettes and lung cancer."
The beloved game show host announced Wednesday he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The 78-year-old tried to stay positive when he shared the news.
"Normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I'm going to fight this," Trebek said.
Bose said 55,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the disease every year, and that a stage 4 diagnosis of the cancer is the worst. That means it has spread to other parts of the body, according to Bose.
Bose said, depending on a patient's treatment, the life expectancy is about six to 12 months.
"Unfortunately it's very poor. It's generally not curable, although there are people that can live some time with the disease," he said.
Bose said pancreatic cancer is considered a silent killer because it is hard to detect. He said there isn't a great screening test currently available.
He said symptoms include abdominal pain under the breast bone.
"Often times it will radiate to the back, or they may feel the pain is mainly on the right side under their ribs," he said.
Bose said other symptoms include jaundice, which is a yellowing of the eyes, loss of weight, loss of appetite and loss of energy.
However, Bose said once a patient starts showing symptoms, it is often too late.
"We can count on our fingers and toes, maybe, how many patients make it to five years with stage 4 cancer. That's unfortunate. We still need to make progress with the treatment of pancreatic cancer," Bose said.
Bose said this type of cancer usually affects people in their 70s or older.
He said you can take preventative steps to reduce your risk of developing pancreatic cancer, such as not smoking, getting exercise, maintaining a good weight and moderating your alcohol intake.
Even though the prognosis is not good, Bose is hopeful with more research, screening tools and treatment advancements, one day doctors can win the fight against the disease.
"There's so much reason for hope. We're starting to harness the power of our own immune systems to fight cancers," he said.
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