MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) -- This year more than 56,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer -- "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek among the latest -- announcing last week his stage 4 diagnosis.
He told fans, "I'm going to fight this, and I'm going to 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."
While pancreatic cancer makes up just 3% of cancers in the U.S. -- it's the 4th leading cause of cancer death among men and women, largely because there's no screening method.
"It's hard to detect early and the unfortunate fact is that only a few patients with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed when they are resectable... Probably 10 to 20%," said Dr. Mohammad Khushman, Mitchell Cancer Institute.
Dr. Khushman says there are symptoms to look out for -- most notably: persistent abdominal pain, accompanied by jaundice, extreme weight loss, and early onset diabetes.
He also says there are other factors that make some patients more high risk:
Age: as your age gets higher so does the risk. Pancreatic cancer is typically rare before 45 years of age.
Hereditary Risk Factors (10% of patients)
Patients with Cystic Fibrosis
Cysts on pancreas
MCI has recently participated in two international trials -- testing a drug to help chemotherapy penetrate the pancreatic cancer.
"Phase 2 of the trial was positive in a group of patients. Phase 3 of the trial was just completed December 2018. We expect the results to be announced at the end of 2019. If that is positive that will be an extra drug that we will be able to add to the chemotherapy options we have at this point," explained Dr. Khushman.
According to Khushman, they see about 70 new pancreatic cancer patients every year at the Mitchell Cancer Institute.
"At the same time if this drug becomes approved we are already capable of knowing how to give the drug what to expect in terms of side effects and how to manage things that are related to that specific drug," said Dr. Khushman. "The work we do here as a team gives us a great feeling because that makes us part of the future."