Country music star TOBY KEITH headlines Day 3 of the 37th Annual "Jamboree In The Hills" 2013, also known as the "Super Bowl of Country Music".

Country Music Legend Toby Keith's Death Raises Stomach Cancer Awareness

Home / News / Country Music Legend Toby Keith's Death Raises Stomach Cancer Awareness

By Afouda Bamidele on February 7, 2024 at 8:15 AM EST

Toby Keith has passed away following a battle with stomach cancer that lasted over two years. 

Following the country singer's death, which occurred on Monday night, doctors have opened up about the condition that likely begins in the gastroesophageal junction and the signs people should look out for. 

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Medical Experts Want Individuals To Pay Better Attention To What Happens In Their Stomachs

The health problem that led to Keith's death at 62 is not news to the public. In June 2022, the country singer disclosed on social media that he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in the fall of 2021 and had already undergone chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. 

Later, in June 2023, he informed a media outlet that his tumor had decreased by a third, and he was still undergoing chemotherapy. Additionally, he mentioned receiving immunotherapy, a treatment aiding the immune system in targeting cancer cells.

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Now, in the wake of his death, medical experts are once again emphasizing the importance of recognizing signs of stomach cancer. These symptoms include acid reflux, heartburn, anemia, nausea, post-meal pain, ulcers, early satiety after consuming small portions, or unexplained weight loss.

According to Dr. Fabian Johnston, the division chief of gastrointestinal oncology at Johns Hopkins Medicine, many symptoms of stomach cancer may seem benign. Still, they can be deceptive, leading to delayed diagnoses. Acid reflux, for example, is often overlooked as harmless, which can result in late-stage diagnoses.

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Toby Keith at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of Toby Keith's "Should've Been A Cowboy" held at BMI on December 5, 2018 in Nashville, TN
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While stomach cancer is relatively rare, with around 27,000 new cases estimated in 2024, it still accounts for approximately 1.5% of new cancer diagnoses in the United States annually. 

Although overall rates of stomach cancer diagnoses have slightly decreased over the past decade, there is still a concerning rise in rates among adults under 50 for reasons yet to be understood.

Speaking on that, Dr. Ben Schlechter, a gastrointestinal medical oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, stated:

"There's something that's going on — something we're eating, something we're ingesting, some combination of factors that's modern and present — which is resulting in these increased cancers in young people."

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Schlechter noted that while tobacco and alcohol were once significant factors contributing to stomach cancer, they now play a role in only a minority of cases in the United States, potentially due to decreased smoking rates. 

Instead, many new cases are linked to chronic acid reflux or infections with Helicobacter pylori bacteria, known to cause stomach inflammation. As Schlechter explained:

"It's a disease of bad luck. Maybe there's an association with H. pylori infection. Maybe there's a history of heartburn or reflux, but usually it's not as clear."

Despite the lack of clarity, Schlechter expressed:

"It doesn't mean that people are imminently dying. It just means that the tools that we have to cure them are pretty limited. People do pretty well compared to 15 years ago, but we are hardly at the level of, say, breast cancer, where the commanding majority of people are cured with surgery and chemotherapy and things like that."

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Toby Keith and Tricia Lucus attend Los Angeles Premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' 'The Mule'

Regarding Keith's passing, The Blast observed that an announcement was made by the "As Good As I Once Was" hitmaker's family on Facebook. They wrote:

"Toby Keith passed peacefully last night on February 5th, surrounded by his family. He fought his fight with grace and courage. Please respect the privacy of his family at this time."

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Toby Keith Publicly Praised His Spouse For Her Unwavering Commitment

Just before his death, Keith left a touching testament to the importance of his beloved wife, Tricia Lucus, during his battle with stomach cancer. Commending his longtime partner for her strength and unwavering support throughout his treatment journey, sharing:

"She's been a trouper. She's the best nurse. The first time we went to Houston, to the hospital, she stepped right in, and she just took control and said, 'We got this. Let's go.' So she's like, 'We're going to get this, and don't worry about it.'"

The Blast recalled that Keith and Lucus first crossed paths after the country music icon completed high school. During that period, the "American Soldier" singer climbed the ladder to fame by laboring in the oil fields during the day and entertaining crowds at bars at night. 

After three years of courtship, the couple exchanged vows in March 1984. While reflecting on their union in 1991, Lucus gushed about how Keith consistently made her feel cherished. In her words:

"Most people think he is just the most romantic person on the planet. He has his moments of charm. It is nice to get a bouquet of flowers, but I've told him, 'Save the money. Roses die in five to seven days. Buy me an outfit or take me to dinner.'"

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