Toby Keith's death: Here's what to know about stomach cancer

Country music legend Toby Keith died this week after a battle with stomach cancer.

While fans were saddened by the news, it was not necessarily a surprise. Keith said in June of 2022 that he had been fighting cancer and had already spent six months undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. He died Feb. 5, 2024 at the age of 62.

RELATED: The story behind Toby Keith's hit 'Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue'


File: Toby Keith performs on stage during the 2023 People's Choice Country Awards held at the Grand Ole Opry House on September 28, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Mickey Bernal/NBC via Getty Images)

Keith’s death has renewed the spotlight on stomach cancer, which is the fifth most common cancer in the world, according to the National Institute of Health’s National Cancer Institute (NIH). The American Cancer Society estimates the U.S. will see 26,890 new cases of stomach cancer this year and about 10,880 deaths.

Symptoms of stomach cancer

Early on, stomach cancer usually doesn’t have symptoms, making it hard to detect. 

When symptoms of early-stage stomach cancer do occur, they may include: 

  • Indigestion and stomach discomfort
  • A bloated feeling after eating
  • Mild nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Heartburn

Stomach cancer is often advanced when it is diagnosed, according to the NIH, and at that stage, can be treated but is rarely cured. 


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How do you get stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer is caused by certain changes to the way stomach cells function.

The risk for stomach cancer is increased in some people, and the risk factor depends on which part of the stomach could become affected. 

For example, the NIH says H. pylori infections, a bacterial infection that can lead to atrophic gastritis, increases the risk of cancer in the lower and middle part of the stomach. Obesity and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) increase the risk of cancer in the upper stomach.

"H. pylori rates are very low in the U.S. due to better sanitation than in some developing countries," noted Dr. Rutika Mehta, an oncologist in the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. "One of the more common risk factors in the U.S. is more likely due to possible acid reflux."

According to Moffitt, 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

As with all other types of cancers, genetics and family history also play a role in risk factors. 

Other public figures who have died from stomach cancer

Other notable public figures that have died of stomach cancer include:

  • Fred Rogers, better known as the television host Mr. Rogers, who died in 2003 at age 74
  • Actress Darlene Conley, known for her roles on daytime TV, who died in 2007 at age 72
  • Marcy Borders, who was photographed after surviving the World Trade Center’s North Tower collapse and became known as "The Dust Lady." She died in 2015 at age 42

This story was reported from Detroit.