Even then, survival rates can be low, if not detected early.
66-year old Judith May hated to accept help herself after being diagnosed with stage two pancreatic cancer.
"You do everything yourself and I had to depend on my husband who was my wonderful nurse."
But even as she fought her disease with traditional surgery and chemo, she had the nagging feeling there had to be some other treatment.
"Anything that would help it, cure it, possibly."
Jefferson University researchers in Philadelphia are hoping for just that.
They are in phase two clinical trials for a colorectal vaccine that seeks a specific molecule in cancer cells called GUCY2C.
"We can administer a vaccine in the arm, for example and those immune cells will spread out from there and seek out cancer cells in different places like the lung and the liver, where they may have spread to," said Adam Snook, an assistant professor at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center-Jefferson Health at Jefferson University.
During phase one of the study, researchers found GUYC2C in three other cancers: pancreatic, esophageal and stomach.
It could mean a later version of the vaccine would fight them as well.
The new study will include about 100 patients, followed over the course of two years.
"Our goal is that for patients with pancreatic cancer or colon cancer, that they receive the standard therapies and instead of hoping that their disease has gone after they've received their chemotherapy, that they now know that their immune system is sort of working for those weeks or months or years afterwards to hopefully prevent it from coming back." - Dr. Adam Snook
Meanwhile, Judith stays positive.
"I play golf, we travel and just do whatever we can do. Each day that I wake up it's a blessing to me."
This pivotal phase two study hones in on targeting specific cancer molecules and destroying them.
Researchers know that cancer cells are so similar to normal cells in makeup that it is often difficult to create cancer specific therapies, but they believe it is possible to safely leverage a patient's own immune system to kill cancer cells.
If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at email@example.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.