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Photo by: Fishhawk, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Country music singer Toby Keith died Monday night, his social media accounts announced. He was 62. Keith was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2022.

The “Red Solo Cup” singer died surrounded by his family, the statement said. “He fought his fight with grace and courage,” it added.

Keith received the Country Icon Award at last year’s People’s Choice Awards. In an interview with E! News, he described his cancer journey as a “little bit of a roller coaster.”

“You get good days and, you know, you’re up and down, up and down. It’s always zero to 60 and 60 to zero but I feel good today,” he said.

Keith started his own charity in 2006 dedicated to helping children diagnosed with cancer. In 2014, the Toby Keith Foundation opened the OK Kids Korral, cost-free lodging for Oklahoma families with children receiving cancer treatment.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 27,000 Americans will be diagnosed with stomach cancer this year. The disease mostly affects those 65 and older and is slightly more common in men than women. Although, we are now seeing alarming rates of diagnosis in younger individuals, reasons for which remain unclear.

In the U.S. the number of new stomach cancer cases overall has been dropping by about 1.5% each year over the past 10 years, but this rate has increased for young adults.

“Historically, Helicobacter pylori [H. pylori] was known to be a risk factor for gastric cancer,” said Dr. Rutika Mehta, a medical oncologist in the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. “However, H. pylori rates are very low in the U.S. due to better sanitation than in some developing countries. One of the more common risk factors in the U.S. is more likely due to possible acid reflux.”

Dr. Rutika Mehta, Gastrointestinal Oncology Program

Dr. Rutika Mehta, Gastrointestinal Oncology Program

Mehta says stomach cancer death rates have declined due to better treatment options that have improved survival, including targeted therapies and immunotherapies. There has also been an increase of clinical trials focusing on the disease. There is significant enthusiasm in the medical oncology community for the approval of a new drug called zolbetuximab, which will be used in combination with chemotherapy for about 30% to 40% of patients whose tumors will express a protein called Claudin 18.2. We are now testing not only new drugs, but also newer surgical procedures that may benefit a subset of our gastric cancer patients.

Other factors for stomach cancer include:

  • Decreased acid secretion from a prior stomach surgery such as gastric bypass
  • Exposure to certain compounds like nitroso, which are found in cured meat
  • Infection with the Epstein-Barr virus, in rare cases
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol

While most stomach cancer symptoms are usually vague, many patients complain of having abdomen pain, feeling full very fast and losing weight. Some patients also have symptoms of anemia, could be throwing up blood or passing dark-colored stools.

If caught early, stomach cancer can be treated with surgery or endoscopic procedures. More advanced cancers are treated with one or a combination of chemotherapy, targeted treatments or immunotherapy.