Alex Trebek diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A brave journey begins.

By | March 7, 2019

The news that Alex Trebek has advanced stage IV pancreatic cancer has been met with an outpouring of support and good wishes, as would be expected for someone who has been a part of our lives for so many years.

The fact is, pancreatic cancer is a difficult disease to treat effectively. That is due in no small part to the fact that — as the case with Mr. Trebek — pancreatic cancer is usually diagnosed at a later stage, remaining undetected until it causes difficulties and symptoms by its spread. The reality is that for most people pancreatic cancer is too advanced to be treated with surgery and is not very responsive to currently available chemotherapy and targeted therapy medications. And newer forms of treatment such as immunotherapy and CAR-T haven’t shown particular success at this point.

Mr. Trebek’s illness gives us the opportunity to reflect on the fact that there is much we need to learn about the early detection and treatment of patients with pancreatic cancer. We do not have effective early detection tests that can be applied routinely for those who are not at exceptionally high risk of pancreatic cancer. And although our treatments have improved somewhat, we still have much further to travel before we have something that can offer genuine hope to most of the patients with this cancer when they present with advanced disease.

It is always important to remember — especially when celebrities develop cancer and share that with the public — that there is much we don’t know about a particular person’s situation. We need to respect that privacy and understand that it is difficult to predict in any individual circumstance what the future holds.

In moments like this, no one should be alone. Our celebrities frequently share difficult life moments, and we should never forget that those moments are experienced by so many others who may not have the recognition of someone like Mr. Trebek, whose journeys are every bit as courageous and difficult.

Announcements such as Mr. Trebek’s remind us that together we give one another strength to face an uncertain future with dignity and hope.

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld is deputy chief medical officer, American Cancer Society. He blogs at Dr. Len’s Cancer Blog.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com 

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