What is pancreatic cancer, diagnosed in John Lewis, Alex Trebek?

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Known as the “silent killer,” pancreatic cancer has a five-year-survival rate of less than 10%. It is one of the least understood cancers among the general public.

Within the past year, civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis and “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek were diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. 

The disease affects the pancreas, the small organ in the upper part of the backside of the abdomen — between the stomach and the spine — that is responsible for digesting food and regulating blood sugar levels. Although it accounts for only 3% of cancers, it causes 7% of cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

“Despite pancreatic cancer not necessarily being a prevalent one, it is responsible for a large amount of cancer-related deaths,” said Dr. Laith Abushahin, an oncologist at the Ohio State University James Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The majority of pancreatic cancers take place in cells that help digest food, known as the exocrine pancreas cells, per the National Cancer Institute (NCI).



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