Country music star Toby Keith dies at 62
Country music singer-songwriter Toby Keith has died following a battle with stomach cancer.
Country singer-songwriter Toby Keith died at 62 on Monday from stomach cancer, a relatively rare form of cancer that is usually discovered in a person’s late 60s and can also strike younger people. The disease was once a leading killer in the United States but modern diets, food storage and other changes have led to it being uncommon. However, it’s often missed in the early stages because it has easy-to-mistake symptoms.
Keith died after battling the disease for three years. He went public with his diagnosis in 2022, saying he’d received chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to fight the cancer.
Stomach cancer mostly affects older people, possibly because it can in some cases be linked to a lifetime of certain behaviors. The average age of diagnosis is 68, according to the American Cancer Society.
That said, the incidence in younger people is starting to increase, said Dr. Suneel Kamath, a gastrointestinal oncologist with the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. That may be the result of higher levels of overweight and obesity and possibly overuse of antibiotics in childhood, which can alter the gut health.
In the early 20th century stomach cancer was the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. But the rate of new stomach cancer cases in the United States has been going down steadily, about 1.5% every year for the last decade.
If caught early, stomach cancer is more easily treated. Unfortunately, many cases are not discovered early, in part because the symptoms are relatively common.
Here’s what to know about stomach cancer, a disease that affects about 27,000 and kills almost 11,000 Americans each year.
What is stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, is fairly uncommon, making up about 1.5% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States each year. It targets the organ that breaks down and digests food.
Most of this type of cancer occurs in the lining of the stomach. It can be focused at the top, where the stomach meets the esophagus or in the main portion of the organ. According to the Mayo Clinic, in the United States, the most common type occurs at the junction of the stomach and esophagus.
What are the signs and symptoms of stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer is often not detected early because the initial symptoms are easy to mistake for other conditions.
The key is to pay attention to long-term changes, said Kamath.
“I always tell people we shouldn’t be alarmist, millions of people have some of these symptoms but only thousands have stomach cancer,” he said.
“Also, think of change from baseline,” Kamath said. “Did I have these symptoms a few months ago? Did I notice this was a problem last year?”
Duration is the thing to look for. “Everyone has an upset stomach from time to time,” Kamath said. “But if you’re having the same symptoms for a month, that’s more concerning and (it’s) time to reach out to your doctor.”
Early symptoms can include:
- Ongoing heartburn or indigestion
- Feeling bloated after meals
- Feeling full after only a few bites of food.
More advanced stomach cancer can cause these symptoms:
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing
- Persistent stomach pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blood in stool (resulting in black stool)
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
What causes stomach cancer?
There are not always clear risk factors for developing stomach cancer, but some factors tend to be associated with the onset of the disease. These include:
- A diet high in smoked and salted foods and processed meat
- A diet low in vegetables and fiber-rich foods
- Drinking alcohol
- Smoking tobacco
- Being overweight or obese.
Men are at higher lifetime risk for developing stomach cancer than women, about 1 in 101 versus 1 in 155 for women. However, risk can be affected by many factors.
How treatable is stomach cancer?
If caught early, stomach cancer is more easily treated. Unfortunately, many cases are not detected until the cancer is advanced and has grown through the stomach wall or spread to other parts of the body, when it is harder to treat and cure.
Treatment includes chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the 5-year relative survival rates for different stages of stomach cancer are:
- 75% for cancer that has not spread beyond the stomach
- 35% for cancer that has spread beyond the stomach to nearby lymph nodes or organs
- 7% for metastatic stomach cancer that has spread beyond the stomach to a distant part of the body
Why is the rate of stomach cancer dropping?
Scientists aren’t entirely sure why, but two factors that likely contributed to the decrease in cases:
- Because there is better access to refrigeration, people eat far less salted and smoked food today than they used to.
- Far fewer people are infected with the Helicobacter pylori(H pylori) bacteria, believed to be a major cause of stomach cancer. Long-term infection with the bacteria can cause inflammation that may lead to stomach cancer – although it’s important to note that most people who have the infection never develop cancer.