Toby Keith's Cause Of Death Explained

Country singer Toby Keith, 62, died on Monday, February 5, from stomach cancer. The "Should've Been a Cowboy" musician was surrounded by loved ones at the time of his death, noted a statement shared by his family via X. The statement further noted that Keith passed away peacefully and that "he fought his fight with grace and courage." 

The "As Good As I Once Was" star was diagnosed with stomach cancer back in 2021. He revealed the news to his fans via an Instagram post, adding that he had spent the last six months going through treatment which included chemo, radiation, and surgery. 

Keith, who shares three children with his wife, Tricia Lucas, opened up about his health in an interview with News 9 earlier this year. "Cancer is a roller coaster, so it's like, you just sit here and wait on it to go away, and it may not ever go away," shared the Oklahoma-born singer/songwriter who released his debut album in 1993 and has sold over 40 million records in his lifetime. "If it goes into remission, it will still be in the back of your mind." 

How common is stomach cancer?

Known for his famed hits like "Made in America" and "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)," Toby Keith defined his experience with stomach cancer as "a lot of dark hallways" in his News 9 chat. Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, affects fewer people in the U.S. (1.5% diagnosed cases each year) when compared to its incidence across the globe, per Cleveland Clinic. World-over, stomach cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death. Mongolia had the highest incidence in 2020, followed by Japan. 

According to Dr. Sunnie Kim of the University of Colorado Cancer Center, the number of new cases in the U.S. has been declining in the last decade. "This may be for a number of reasons, and one of those is that the incidence of Helicobacter pylori bacteria is much lower in more resourced countries. This bacteria is a significant risk factor in stomach cancer, and it's still prevalent in developing countries, where sanitation and clean water is still lacking," explained Dr. Kim.

Most of the time, the cancer starts in your stomach lining. When left untreated, it can spread deeper into your stomach walls and even reach your liver and pancreas. In the U.S. it's usually seen originating near the gastroesophageal junction. Although anyone can be diagnosed with the disease, being over 65 years of age, being male, and originating from East Asia, South or Central America, or Eastern Europe puts you at greater risk of developing stomach cancer. A family history of stomach cancer, previous stomach surgery, poor diet, alcohol use, smoking, and being obese are also considered risk factors.

What are the symptoms and how is it treated?

Earlier stages of the disease may not cause symptoms but stomach cancer can manifest as a feeling of being full, tiredness, and mild stomach cramps. More obvious warning signs from your stomach that you shouldn't ignore include severe abdominal pain, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite coupled with difficulty swallowing, nausea and vomiting, indigestion, heartburn, tar-like poop that's dark and sticky, and bloody vomit.

Diagnosing stomach cancer can involve doing an upper endoscopy, biopsy, blood tests, stomach ultrasound, CT scans, positron emission tomography (PET), and sometimes surgery to get a better look at what's going on inside your stomach. Treatment and prognosis will depend on what stage of cancer you're at. Early-stage stomach cancer might only involve surgery. Keith shared via News 9 that he was undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery to treat the disease. Chemotherapy and radiation are used in stage 2 or 3 of stomach cancer to shrink the cancer before attempting to remove it. Immunotherapy and targeted therapy are also measures healthcare providers use, particularly in more advanced stages. 

Toby Keith's cancer recovery looked "positive" when the "Beer For My Horses" musician told The Oklahoman that he was feeling pretty good. "I'm feeling pretty good. Basically, everything is in a real positive trend," shared the singer, who was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015. However, recurrence can be part and parcel of this disease.