Upstate Surgical Oncologist Sheds Light on Pancreatic Cancer After Alex Trebek's Diagnosis

Mar 7, 2019

TV host Alex Trebek in 2012. The 78-year-old host of Jeopardy! revealed he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
Credit Anders Krusberg/ Peabody Awards

Game show host Alex Trebek’s stage four pancreatic cancer diagnosis is shedding light on this silent killer. Mashaal Dhir is a surgical oncologist at Upstate Medical Center. He thinks the attention is good because it raises awareness for a disease that is becoming more common. Dhir says only one in five patients present symptoms early enough to be candidates for surgery. 

“So in general, for the population or everybody, what we would say the average risk, there is no screening tool. But, you know, alarming signs would be any unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite.”

By then, though, the cancer has usually spread.  Dhir emphasizes the importance of a positive outlook, because he says the more treatments patients can tolerate, the longer they will live.

Surgical oncologist Mashaal Dhir says there are no specific symptoms for pancreatic cancer, and no specific screening tool.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

 “It’s a tough disease and a tough problem, but the treatments are also becoming more effective. And in one particular patient’s case, it depends on how they respond to treatments. If they respond to treatment, the tumor is shrinking, then we have more time.”

Dhir says that there is a lot of research on the disease and that he thinks that more treatments are coming.  Still, the survival rate for advanced pancreatic cancer is not promising.  An estimated 2,800 New Yorkers will die of the disease this year.