Behind the Cancer that Killed Patrick Swayze

By Sara Bondell - August 21, 2019

Paramount Network’s I am Patrick Swayze has become the network's most-watched special, with more than one million viewers tuning in for the premiere. The film, which profiles the actor’s life, career and health, debuted ten years after he lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.

Swayze was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in early 2008. After more than a year of treatment which included chemotherapy and an experimental drug trial, Swayze announced his cancer had metastasized to his liver. The actor said he had been a heavy smoker most of his life, and that he believed the habit contributed to the development of his disease.

Swayze passed away on September 14, 2009 at the age of 57, 20 months after his cancer diagnosis.

It is estimated that pancreatic cancer will surpass breast and colon cancer to become the second-leading cause of all cancer-related deaths in the United States by 2020. The only cure for the disease is surgery, but only 20% of patients with pancreatic cancer are eligible for surgery. Among those who have had surgery, 80% will have recurrent or metastatic disease within five years.

While the number of pancreatic cancer cases is rising, the five-year survival rate has remained unchanged at around 9%. The average survival for patients diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer is less than one year. So far, immunotherapy hasn’t been successful in pancreatic cancer, but there are many ongoing trials. “We are trying to combine different treatments to enhance immunotherapy activity in pancreatic cancer,” said Dr. Dae Won Kim, a medical oncologist in the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. “For example, using radiation and chemotherapy with immunotherapy.”

Since most pancreatic cancer patients don’t have symptoms until the disease is advanced, it is hard to detect at an early stage. Symptoms include abdominal or back pain, jaundice, loss of appetite, nausea and new onset of diabetes.

Experts say obesity, smoking and alcohol are risk factors for pancreatic cancer.

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