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TGen in Phoenix helping to fight pancreatic cancer

In light of Alex Trebek's revelation that he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer, we're answering questions about this dreaded disease. TGen in Phoenix develops drugs in their lab to help fight pancreatic cancer.

PHOENIX — "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek’s revelation that he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer has many people asking: How is the disease diagnosed?  What kinds of treatments are available? What's the survival rate?

I spoke to TGen in Phoenix about the innovative ways they’re helping to fight the deadly disease.

TGen is one of the most innovative scientific labs in the world when it comes to fighting cancers—including pancreatic cancer. 

Doctors there say the average patient lives about 11 months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but thanks to new research, those numbers are increasing to as much as two years, and in some cases, complete remission. But there’s a long way to go when it comes to ridding the world of the deadly disease.

For Dr. Sunil Sharma, he works toward eradicating the world of pancreatic cancer every day. 

"We’ve developed more aggressive chemotherapies and combination treatments in stage 4 metastatic pancreatic cancer," said Dr. Sharma. "And then what the new big effort is to move that into the earlier stages of pancreatic cancer."

Dr. Sharma showed 12 News how his research team is able to grow cancerous tumors from a patient's own pancreas and test new drugs on those cancerous cells. TGen also develops the drugs in their lab to help fight pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Sharma says the key to beating pancreatic cancer is early detection, but because there’s no specific test for the disease, it’s still a challenge. 

"It metastisizes or spreads very early. So even if the cancer is thought to be just in the pancreas—you already know that 95 percent of those patients, even though you take it out of the pancreas, it's already spread," Dr. Sharma said. 

Dr. Sharma said a combination of technology, early detection and aggressive treatment is the best hope for a longer life after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

He said a cure is a long way off, but with proper treatment, you can live longer with a better quality of life. 

"The best advice for someone like Alex Trebek would be to look at the best, most aggressive clinical trials, and try to incorporate that at some point into their treatment, " Dr. Sharma said.

Dr. Sharma says middle-aged people who are diagnosed with diabetes should be on the lookout for pancreatic cancer because there are much higher rates in that demographic. 

It's thought the cancerous cells stop the pancreas from being able to produce insulin. 

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