Toby Keith, a country music star who rose to fame in the early 1990s with his debut single, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” has died at the age of 62 from stomach cancer.
Keith’s family shared the news in a February 6 statement on X (formerly Twitter).
“Toby Keith passed away peacefully last night, February 5, surrounded by his family. “He fought his fight with grace and courage,” the statement read.
“Please respect the privacy of your family at this time,” the message concludes.
Keith revealed a stomach cancer diagnosis after receiving 6 months of chemotherapy
The country music star was diagnosed with stomach cancer in the fall of 2021. “I spent the last six months receiving chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. So far, so good. “I need time to breathe, recover and relax,” reads the instagram post starting next spring.
Keith continued performing after his diagnosis, most recently in Las Vegas in December and at the People’s Choice Country Awards in 2023, it was reported PBS. “I feel pretty good,” Keith said in a interview with E! News last September 2023. “It’s a bit of a roller coaster. You have good days and, you know, you’re up and down, up and down. It’s always zero to 60 and 60 to zero, but today I feel good.”
What is stomach cancer?
Compared to other parts of the world, such as Asia, stomach cancer is relatively rare in the United States, says Zev Wainberg, MDprofessor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles and co-director of the GI Oncology program at UCLA in Los Angeles.
Gastroesophageal cancer is the most common type of stomach cancer in the United States, says Dr. Wainberg. “The stomach is kind of a long organ and cancer can start at different points along the way. Gastroesophageal cancer occurs in the place where the esophagus joins the stomach, called the gastroesophageal junction,” he explains.
The link between stomach cancer and heartburn
In the United States, people are at higher risk for this type of stomach cancer due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), commonly known as heartburn, says Wainberg. “Long-term acid reflux can damage the esophagus and lead to a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which can be a precursor to esophageal cancer,” she says.
Signs and symptoms of stomach cancer
Symptoms of stomach cancer may include difficulty swallowing, stuck food, unexplained weight loss, or bleeding, which can occur when vomiting or passing bloody stools, says Wainberg.
Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and a bloated feeling can also be symptoms of stomach cancer, he says. Ning Jin, MDa medical oncologist who specializes in the treatment of gastrointestinal cancers at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center in Columbus.
Because stomach cancer in the United States is rare, routine screening is not recommended, Wainberg says. “Screening tests are often determined by risks and benefits: what is right for 100 million people? According to the people who decide which types of cancer are detected, we do not have enough of this type of cancer to justify performing an endoscopy on everyone,” he says.
Main risk factors for stomach cancer
“As with many gastrointestinal cancers, we still don’t understand why most people get this type of cancer. It’s not like lung cancer, where smoking is clearly the number one risk factor,” Wainberg says. For that reason, it’s important to watch for symptoms, she adds.
Smoking, consuming too much alcohol, obesity, high consumption of salty and smoked foods and a diet low in vegetables are among the known risk factors for stomach cancer, says Dr. Jin.
What is the prognosis for someone diagnosed with stomach cancer?
Since there is no routine screening test for stomach cancer, most people are not diagnosed until they have symptoms, by which time their cancer is often already at stage 3 or 4, Wainberg says. “So more than 60 percent of patients are found when the disease is already advanced, and that is a more difficult scenario,” she says.
If the cancer is diagnosed early, treatment would include chemotherapy and surgery, he says. “If the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, unfortunately, it is a stage 4 disease, and the treatment would typically be chemotherapy and immunotherapy, not surgery,” Wainberg says.
For people diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, only about 1 in 10 people are still alive after 5 years, Wainberg says. “If diagnosed a little earlier, in stage 3, about 40 to 50 percent of people can survive to five years,” she says.
Don’t ignore acid reflux or heartburn that won’t go away
Many people with heartburn symptoms simply attribute it to stress and ignore it. But if it continues or worsens, you should tell your doctor, Wainberg says. “We have learned that we should not ignore persistent and difficult symptoms of heartburn and reflux, because they can worsen over time and cause damage,” she says.
Your doctor may decide that you need to have an upper endoscopy, which would identify signs of stomach cancer.
In terms of controllable risk factors, trying to maintain or achieve a healthy weight, not smoking, and not consuming too much alcohol can reduce your risk, Wainberg says.