With only a 7 per cent survival rate among diagnosed patients, pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest types of the disease.

It’s nicknamed the “silent killer” because its symptoms are hard to distinguish from those of other ailments. By the time many patients see a doctor, the cancer has already spread and it’s too late to treat. That’s why recognizing the signs and symptoms of the disease early can be crucial for increasing the chances of survival.

That’s according to Dr. Michael Clarfield, the chair of the Pancreatic Cancer Canada Foundation and a pancreatic cancer survivor himself.

Nine years ago, Dr. Clarfield was suffering from lower back pain. He ignored the pain for approximately six months, until he began to have some abdominal pain as well.

The Toronto doctor was fortunate to have easy access to ultrasound equipment at his sports medicine clinic and had his stomach examined.

“The technician says, ‘You know you have this big tumour in your pancreas?’” Dr. Clarfield recalled to CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday.

The Toronto doctor began treatment right away and had his entire pancreas removed, which means he now has diabetes because the glandular organ controls blood sugar levels in the body. But, after another six months of radiation and chemotherapy, Dr. Clarfield was cancer free.

“I’m one of the rare lucky people who was diagnosed very early before the cancer had spread, which is the only way in the present time to survive this terrible disease,” he said.

Because there aren’t many pancreatic cancer survivors like Dr. Clarfield, there aren’t as many fundraising efforts and awareness campaigns as there are for other types of cancer. That’s why the Pancreatic Cancer Canada Foundation has launched its latest campaign called “Assumptions can be Deadly” to teach the public about the disease and raise money for research.

“If we don’t do better in our research and get more funding, in the next three or four years, pancreatic cancer will be the number one or two killer of all cancers in North America, which is an incredible statistic,” Dr. Clarfield said.

Anyone interested in learning more about the disease, or donating to the cause can visit http://www.assumptionscanbedeadly.ca/.

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen or back
  • Jaundice
  • Changes in stool colour
  • Overall skin itch
  •  Loss of appetite and unintended weight loss
  • Diabetes late in life
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea and constipation

Dr. Clarfield urged anyone with these symptoms to visit their doctor.

“We can’t assume these things are attributable to nothing,” he said. “It’s important that if you have some vague symptoms like these to go see your doctor and say, ‘I think I may have something more serious.’”