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20:54 PM

Pancreatic Cancer - Symptoms and Prognosis

Earlier this month, longtime Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek announced that he has been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Stage 4 means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as other organs or bones. About 50,000 people receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis annually in the United States. Unfortunately, it’s usually caught in its later stages with a negative prognosis for survival – about 3 percent.  Options for treatment vary depending on the patient, but can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and/or palliative care.

According to OhioHealth surgical oncologist Dr. David Arrese, there just aren’t a lot of symptoms to help catch this cancer in its early stages.

“Unfortunately for some reason, pancreatic cancer symptoms present later and they’re very vague,” Dr. Arrese told ABC6 reporter Rodney Dunigan. Symptoms can include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Change in appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice - yellowing of the skin
  • A new, unexplained onset of diabetes

It’s also not a disease with many known risk factors. Right now, the only known risk factor is smoking cigarettes.

“Pancreatic cancer tends to be very aggressive,” Dr. Arrese told NBC4, who also covered the story. “Unfortunately it tends to metastasize or spread to other organs, and that’s why it’s so deadly.”

There aren’t a lot of screening options for early detection, either, says Dr. Arrese.

“There’s no good screening test for pancreatic cancer,” Dr. Arrese told ABC6. “Patients with a family history are encouraged to go to their primary care doctor where maybe some CAT scans or lab work can be run. But there’s no definitive screening guidelines for pancreatic cancer.”

However, Trebek’s announcement has brought more attention to a disease that isn’t frequently talked about. And he’s bringing a positive attitude, which can go a long way in a battle with cancer.

“Normally the prognosis isn’t very encouraging,” said Trebek in his announcement. “But I’m going to fight this."

10TV, ABC6 and NBC4 all did interviews with Dr. Arrese about pancreatic cancer.  You can watch the stories in the video player above. 

To learn about Cancer Care at OhioHealth, click here.