The Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer Alex Trebek Wanted You to Know
The Jeopardy host, who died on Sunday, said these were the early signs he saw before his diagnosis.
As the host of the wildly beloved quiz show Jeopardy since 1984, Alex Trebek has been a familiar figure in American households for just a few years shy of four decades. On Sunday, Nov. 8, when news broke that Trebek died at 80 years old, after a year-and-a-half long battle with pancreatic cancer, the country collectively mourned. The official Jeopardy Twitter account broke the news, saying, "Alex Trebek passed away peacefully at home early this morning, surrounded by family and friends. Thank you, Alex."
Trebek announced in March of 2019 that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and millions of people reacted as if the news were about a close friend or family member. The public outpouring of support found the good-natured game show host overwhelmed with gratitude. "People all over America and abroad have decided they want to let me know now, while I’m alive, about the impact that I’ve been having on their existence,” Trebek told ABC's Good Morning America in December. “They have come out and they have told me, and my gosh, it makes me feel so good.”
But Trebek's battle with pancreatic cancer was hardly easy. According to Johns Hopkins University Medicine, stage 4 pancreatic cancer—which means the disease has spread throughout the body—has a five-year survival rate of only 1 percent, and the average patient doesn't live more than a year after receiving a diagnosis. Trebek, however, not only survived the disease more than a year since he made his diagnosis public, but he also continued to host the show that turned him into an icon of popular culture.
Recently, Trebek had been open about how trying the ongoing journey had been, leading him to use his voice to educate others on the challenges he faced after receiving his diagnosis. To help you avoid a similar fate, here are the four symptoms of pancreatic cancer Trebek said he wished he'd known sooner. And for more hints to take when it comes to your health, check out the 40 Subtle Signs Your Body Is Telling You Something's Seriously Wrong.
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Persistent stomach pain
According to Trebek's wife of 30 years, stomach pain was the first sign of trouble she noticed in her husband. After finishing a family dinner while on a 2018 vacation in Israel, Jean Trebek noticed that something was off with her spouse and asked if he was okay. “Alex is not one to complain. But he admitted that he was having some stomach pains," she wrote in a July 2020 essay for the magazine Guideposts. "I figured, okay, we were in a different country. Maybe it was something he ate. Later, back home in California, things were still not right. His doctor ran some tests, then some more. We weren’t so worried that we canceled a trip to New York. It was there, in our hotel, that we got a call from his doctor. 'We need to see you as soon as you get back from your trip. We have some concerns.'”
Trebek himself also recalled the early symptom, though he didn't know what to make of it at first. "I wish I had known sooner that the persistent stomach pain I experienced was a symptom of pancreatic cancer," Trebek said in a video released on National Pancreatic Cancer Day in 2019, O, The Oprah Magazine reported. And for other aches you need to acknowledge, check out the 25 Common Pains You Should Never Ignore.
In the same video, Trebek noted that pain in the middle and lower parts of the back was another common symptom of pancreatic cancer that he experienced and one that you should address with your doctor as early as possible. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS): "Pain in the abdomen (belly) or back is common in pancreatic cancer. Cancers that start in the body or tail of the pancreas can grow fairly large and start to press on other nearby organs, causing pain." And for more helpful information delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Unexplained weight loss
The ACS also lists weight loss due to lack of appetite as a common sign of the disease, saying that "unintended weight loss is very common in people with pancreatic cancer." And it's a symptom that Trebek also experienced. "I lost about 12 pounds in a week. And my numbers went sky high, much higher than they were when I was first diagnosed," he told Good Morning America in March. And for other signs of a serious health condition, check out 11 Subtle Signs Your Rapid Weight Loss Is Something Serious.
Yellowing of the skin or eyes
According to the ACS, most pancreatic cancer patients will experience jaundice—or the yellowing of the skin or eyes—as one of their first symptoms. In fact, Trebek's wife also noted in her essay that "his coloring seemed off." But given the fact that jaundice can also present itself subtly and be a sign of several far less serious conditions, it can go overlooked. That's why Trebek called it out in his awareness video as being one of the early signs people should be on the lookout for. And for more skin symptoms that should be on your radar, check out 20 Skin Symptoms That Indicate More Serious Health Issues.