Alex Trebek & The Question We Need to Answer: Can We Catch Up to Pancreatic Cancer?

man who wants to survive pancreatic cancer in a hospital bed talking to younger relative
Consider pancreatic cancer screening if you have had multiple relatives with the disease.

When I heard the news that Alex Trebek, the well-known host of the TV quiz show Jeopardy, has stage 4 pancreatic cancer, I cringed. Despite the earnest tones of his announcement, anyone who knows about this cancer knows it’s a tough one to survive. The 5-year survival rate is only 9 percent, the lowest of any cancer.

This doesn’t mean that Trebek or anyone else with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis should lose hope. Pancreatic cancer moves fast. But at places like UVA, doctors are working to keep pace.

A Horizon of Hope: Precision Medicine

Todd Bauer, MD, explains that in 2019 UVA will introduce a personalized therapy program for pancreatic cancer. With this therapy, also known as precision medicine, each patient receives a prescription “based upon the genetic and molecular analysis of their tumor.” He notes a recently published, landmark study on this technique showed “the chance to double survival time from pancreatic cancer.”

Making Research Real

Bauer points to an example of UVA’s determination to improve pancreatic cancer outcomes: the UVA Pancreatic Cancer Translational Research Program. This “cross-grounds collaboration at UVA includes over 20 scientists (biologists, genetics experts, cell signaling experts, engineers, oncologists) all working together to better understand the biology of pancreatic cancer and how we can develop new strategies for treatment that will result in more cures, better quality of life and longer survival times.”

In other words, we’re getting closer to catching up to this fast and deadly disease.

Help Others Survive Pancreatic Cancer

Noting the need for funding to support this kind of research, Bauer encourages anyone interested in contributing to call Debbie Ryan at 434.982.3803.

And yes, by Debbie Ryan, we’re referring to the former basketball coach for the UVA women’s team who survived pancreatic cancer here at UVA. She now leads efforts to fundraise for research. Read her pancreatic cancer survival story.

Catching Pancreatic Cancer Early

Caught early enough, surgery can actually cure pancreatic cancer. “Unfortunately,” Bauer says, “this is only the case in about 15 percent of patients.”

Which is why the mission behind the UVA High-Risk Pancreatic Cancer Clinic is so critical. By screening high-risk individuals for pancreatic cancer, “the clinic can detect the disease early, when it is potentially curable.” Lives could be saved.

UVA currently has one of the only programs in the country focused on this early intervention.

Survive Pancreatic Cancer

Learn more about our pancreatic cancer treatments.

Who’s at Risk for Pancreatic Cancer?

You can get screened for pancreatic cancer if you have:

  • Multiple relatives with pancreatic cancer
  • Family members with specific genetic conditions, like the BRCA mutation
  • Certain types of pancreatic cysts (IPMN or MCN)

Does this program work? Watch Larry Sabato, UVA professor and political guru, talk about his experience with the high-risk pancreatic cancer experts at UVA.

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