Alex Trebek, the longtime host of TV game show “Jeopardy!,” returned to the air Monday night (Sept. 9) following weeks of treatment for stage four pancreatic cancer.
The 79-year-old TV host was diagnosed in March and announced he would undergo treatment to fight the disease.
In May, he announced he was nearing remission and recently completed chemotherapy, clearing the way to host the first episode of the 36th season of the US game show.
“I truly hope you folks have enjoyed revisiting some of our special tournaments throughout this past summer. But today, ‘Jeopardy!’ begins its 36th season on the air and I’m happy to report, I’m still here,” he announced on the show.
When Trebek revealed his diagnosis last March, he admitted his prognoses was “not very encouraging”, but insisted he would fight his illness.
More than half of all cases of pancreatic cancer are first diagnosed at stage 4. Stage 4 pancreatic cancer means the cancer has spread to other organs, typically the liver or the lungs.
Cancer can’t be cured at this point, but there are still treatment options, according to medical references.
“Just like 50,000 other people in the United States each year, this week I was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer,” he said in his shock announcement.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the faster spreading cancers. Only about 4 percent of patients can expect to survive five years after their diagnosis. Each year, about 44,000 new cases are diagnosed in the U.S., and 37,000 people die of the disease.
“Now, normally the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I’m gonna fight this and I’m gonna keep working and with the love and support of my family and friends and with the help of your prayers also, I plan to beat the low survival rate statistics for this disease.”
Two months later in May, the TV star revealed he was “near remission.” Some of his tumors having shrunk by “more than 50 percent” already.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling. The doctors said they hadn’t seen this kind of positive result in their memory,” he explained.
“I’ve got a couple million people out there who have expressed their good thoughts, their positive energy directed towards me and their prayers. I told the doctors, this has to be more than just the chemo, and they agreed it could very well be an important part of this.
“I’ve got a lot of love out there headed in my direction and a lot of prayer, and I will never ever minimize the value of that.”
Other pancreatic cancer patients typically aren’t as fortunate.
Another high-profile patient, actor Patrick Swayze, lived for 20 months after his diagnosis, taking advantage of chemotherapy treatments. But, overall, patients’ median survival is generally only five months.
Apple founder Steve Jobs also died of the disease, at age 56, in 2011. He’d been battling pancreatic cancer since 2004.
Jobs underwent surgery to remove the cancer from his pancreas, according to Time magazine.
In 2009, he had a liver transplant after his cancer had spread beyond the pancreas. He died Oct. 5, 2011.
The pancreas contains two types of glands: exocrine glands that produce enzymes that break down fats and proteins, and endocrine glands that make hormones like insulin that regulate sugar in the blood.
Jobs died of tumors originating in the endocrine glands, which are among the rarer forms of pancreatic cancer.
Trebek said he decided to see a doctor after a pain near his stomach wouldn’t go away. Doctors discovered a tumor the size of a small fist on his pancreas.
Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and, more recently, targeted anticancer drugs may slightly extend patients’ lives.
In 2005, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first such drug, “erlotinib.” It specifically targets growth factors found on cancer cells in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.
The drug has been shown in trials to improve overall survival by 23 percent after a year when added to routine chemotherapy.
The tumors in patients being treated with erlotinib and chemo also develop more slowly than those in patients receiving chemotherapy alone.
Doctors can now analyze a patient’s cancer at the molecular level, which allows them to tailor drugs to a patient’s tumor biology.
“I’ve gone through a lot of chemotherapy and thankfully that is now over,” Trebek said on the show.
“I’m on the mend, and that’s all that I can hope for right now. We have some exciting things coming up. and I can’t wait to share them with you all. It’s going to be a good year.”