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Patrick Swayze Dies of Pancreatic Cancer

Star Had Advanced Pancreatic Cancer, Served as Cancer Research Advocate
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 15, 2009 -- Actor Patrick Swayze died yesterday of pancreatic cancer.

Swayze, 57, died "peacefully" with his family at his side, Swayze's publicist, Annett Wolf, said in a statement published by the Associated Press.

Although Swayze's memorable movie roles in Dirty Dancing and Ghost ingratiated him into the hearts and minds of legions of fans, he will also be remembered for the awareness he helped raise about pancreatic cancer -- a rare, but stealthy disease.

Swayze was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2008. He is survived by his wife, actress/dancer Lisa Niemi.

"Patrick Swayze is a tremendous source of inspiration," Gagandeep Singh, MD, director of hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgery at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., previously told WebMD.

"He continued to work despite being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” Singh said.  “We don’t want people to close the door when they are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.”

Patrick Swayze's Pancreatic Cancer

Although Swayze's pancreatic cancer was at stage IV when it was diagnosed in March 2008, he continued working on his television series, The Beast, completing all 13 episodes without the help of pain medications.

He opened up about his ordeal in a moving interview with Barbara Walters that aired in January. "You can bet that I'm going through hell," Swayze said. "And I've only seen the beginning of it."

Two days after that interview aired, Swayze checked himself into a hospital with pneumonia, where he recovered before going home.

What is Pancreatic Cancer?

The pancreas is a long, flat gland that lies in the abdomen behind the stomach. It produces enzymes that aid digestion and certain hormones that help maintain the proper level of blood sugar.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in the U.S. in 2009, there will be 42,470 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 35,420 deaths from pancreatic cancer, making it the nation's fourth leading cause of cancer death overall.

Unlike other cancers, there is no screening test for pancreatic cancer. There are also no symptoms until the cancer has begun to spread, which accounts for the cancer's dismal survival rate.

Swayze's cancer had already spread to his liver when it was found. Because of that, he did not have surgery.

Swayze's pancreatic cancer treatment included aggressive chemotherapy and an experimental drug called vatalanib. That drug, which is an angiogenesis inhibitor, blocks the development of new blood vessels that supply blood to the tumor, which may curb the cancer's growth and/or stop the cancer from spreading.

Dancing with the Stars

Born August 18, 1952 in Houston, Texas, Swayze graduated from Waltrip High School in Houston, and attended San Jacinto College. His father, Jesse Wayne Swayze, died in 1982. 

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