Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek died Sunday after a nearly two-year battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, reports the Associated Press. He was 80 years old.
An announcement was also made on his show's Twitter account: "Jeopardy! is saddened to share that Alex Trebek passed away peacefully at home early this morning, surrounded by family and friends. Thank you, Alex," the tweet said. Trebek began hosting Jeopardy! in 1984, and he hosted the show for 35 years.
Trebek was first diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in March 2019. Then 78, he announced the news in a video shared by Jeopardy!'s YouTube page. “[J]ust like 50,000 other people in the United States each year, this week I was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer,” Trebek said in the video. “Now normally the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I’m going to fight this and I’m going to keep working.” He reportedly started chemotherapy immediately after his diagnosis.
Trebek seemingly had some ups and downs in his pancreatic cancer treatment. In May 2019—just two months after his diagnosis—he told People that he was "near remission" and that his tumors had shrunk. "The doctors said they hadn’t seen this kind of positive result in their memory…some of the tumors have already shrunk by more than 50 percent," he said.
He completed that round of chemotherapy in August, according to People, but had to begin another round of chemotherapy a month later in September after his condition worsened. “I was doing so well and my numbers went down to the equivalent of a normal human being who does not have pancreatic cancer, so we were all very optimistic,” Trebek told Good Morning America. “They said, ‘Good, we’re gonna stop chemo, we’ll start you on immunotherapy’ and I lost about 12 pounds in a week and my numbers went sky-high, much higher than they were when I was first diagnosed.”
In his most recent interview in July 2020, Trebek opened up to The New York Times about his apparently worsening condition: “Yesterday morning my wife came to me and said, ‘How are you feeling?’ And I said, ‘I feel like I want to die.’ It was that bad,” he told the NYT. “There comes a time where you have to make a decision as to whether you want to continue with such a low quality of life, or whether you want to just ease yourself into the next level. It doesn’t bother me in the least.”
Still, Trebek continued to host Jeopardy! throughout his diagnosis and the COVID-19 pandemic. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for Jeopardy! said that Trebek's last day in the studio was on October 29—and that his episodes of the show will continue to run through December 25.
What is stage 4 pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the pancreas—a gland situated near the liver and small intestine that aids in hormone regulation and digestion, says the American Cancer Society (ACS).
Early pancreatic cancers don't often show symptoms, and when a person does begin to have symptoms of pancreatic cancer, it's usually when the cancer has grown very large and extends beyond the pancreas. Those later-stage symptoms, per the ACS, include:
- Jaundice or related symptoms (yellowing skin, dark urine)
- Abdominal or back pain
- Weight loss and poor appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Gallbladder or liver enlargement
- Blood clots
Though it's not currently known what exactly causes pancreatic cancer, the ACS says quite a few risk factors can increase the chances of being diagnosed with it. Some changeable risk factors include tobacco use, being overweight, and having diabetes. Risk factors that cannot be changed are age and gender (the average age of diagnosis is 70 years old, and pancreatic cancer is more common in men than women), along with race, family history, and genetics.
Speaking specifically about the staging of pancreatic cancer, A stage 4 diagnosis indicates that a person’s cancer is no longer contained to just the pancreas and has spread to other organs such as the liver, abdominal cavity, lungs, or bones. The ACS says the five-year relative survival rate for pancreatic cancer that has spread to distant sites is 3%. In other words, compared to someone who does not have the disease, pancreatic cancer patients are about 3% as likely to live for five years.
Unfortunately, once pancreatic cancer spreads and reaches a later stage, as with Trebek's stage 4 diagnosis, surgical removal is no longer a feasible option for treatment—which is why Trebek's cancer was treated with chemotherapy. The ACS adds that when pancreatic cancer reaches stage 4, or the metastatic stage, the cancer can’t be removed completely. Any potential surgery would only prevent or relieve symptoms, not cure the cancer.
Trebek is survived by his wife, Jean, and their two children: son Matthew, 29, and daughter Emily, 27, according to People. He also has an older daughter Nicky, 53, whom he adopted when he was married to his first wife, Elaine Callei.
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