What is pancreatic cancer?

U.S. Rep. John Lewis was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in 2019. He died late Friday at age 80.

Pancreatic cancer, which recently claimed the life of legendary Georgia congressman and civil rights giant John Lewis and for which internationally known “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek is receiving treatment, is one of the most difficult cancers to detect early.

The pancreas is deep inside the body. Early tumors can’t be seen or felt by health care providers during routine physical exams, according to the American Cancer Society. People usually have no symptoms until the cancer has become very large or has already spread to other organs.


Late last year, Lewis announced he was being treated for stage 4 of the disease, which was discovered during a routine exam.

More than 90% of patients die within five years of learning they have pancreatic cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. That number rises to 97% of patients whose pancreatic cancer has spread, as in Lewis’ and Trebek’s case.

On Monday, Trebek told ABC News’ “Good Morning America” he’s responding exceptionally well to treatment for pancreatic cancer and expects to mark his two-year survival next February. Trebek turns 80 on Wednesday.

Beloved ‘Jeopardy!’ host Alex Trebek took to socialmedia on Thursday to share an update on his health.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was successfully treated for pancreatic cancer in 2009, after the disease was detected early during a regular checkup. She completed a three-week course of radiation therapy in August of that year.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg reveals she is being treated for liver cancer

However, Ginsburg announced last week she is being treated for cancerous tumors on her liver.

Pancreatic cancer has several symptoms, including jaundice, stomach or back pain, weight loss and poor appetite, nausea, gallbladder or liver enlargement, blood clots and diabetes.

The pancreas is a 6-inch gland that lies between the stomach and the spine, according to the National Cancer Institute. It helps the body break down food and regulate blood sugar. About 95% of pancreatic cancers begin in exocrine cells, which produce the digestive “juices.”

Pancreatic cancers that begin in endocrine cells, which make hormones including insulin, are far less common but also less aggressive.

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