One of the deadliest forms of cancer is also one of the most difficult to recognize.

Today is World Pancreatic Cancer Day as activists hope to raise awareness and raise the odds of survival. Wendi Cihacek, who helped found the Des Moines affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, says the symptoms can be extremely vague.

Cihacek says, “It can include abdominal pain, mid-back pain, unexplained weight loss, jaundice, loss of appetite, indigestion, changes in stool or new onset diabetes.” Since the symptoms are so basic, people who are hit by this type of cancer usually lose the fight nine times out of ten, as it can advance quickly and quietly, remaining undetected.

“You kind of have to be your own advocate in the aspect of being diligent in knowing the symptoms,” Cihacek says. “If you have a family history of pancreatic cancer or pancreatitis or diabetes, it could increase your risk of getting pancreatic cancer.” Other risk factors include diet, age, smoking and obesity. Cihacek got involved in advocating for pancreatic cancer awareness in 2006 after losing her brother-in-law to the disease.

Statistics find about 580 Iowans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year and 430 of them will die from it. “It’s one of the nation’s deadliest with a five-year survival rate of just 9%,” Cihacek says. “It’s the third-leading cause of cancer death in the United States and it’s expected to become the second-leading cause of cancer death by 2020.”

One goal is to double the survival rate by 2020, which she says is possible through more research, clinical initiatives, patient services and advocacy year-round.