Rare and less common cancers

Release Date

Rare cancers is a term which encompasses both rare and less common cancers. A rare cancer is defined as a type of cancer that has less than 6 incidences per year per 100,000 population. A less common cancer is defined as one that has between 6 and 12 incidences per year per 100,000 population.

It is estimated that 42,000 people are diagnosed with a form of rare or less common cancer in Australia every year.

Rare cancers are a broad and diverse group of cancers which include cancers with a wide range of incidence and survival outcomes.

As the lead national cancer agency, Cancer Australia works across all cancer types including rare and less common cancers, and is committed to improving and reducing variations in cancer outcomes.  

Cancer Australia has established a priority-driven cancer research scheme designed to coordinate and maximise funding of cancer research at a national level. Through this scheme, from 2007-2012, Cancer Australia funded, or co-funded 53 cancer research grants totalling $18.7m in the area of rare and less common cancers. Of this funding, Cancer Australia provided $11.63m with the additional $7.03m provided by funding partner organisations. Included in this funded research are cancers of the bladder, brain, oesophagus, oropharynx, ovary, pancreas and stomach, as well as haematological cancers. Cancer Australia is planning to fund a further 8 projects this financial year, supporting research in soft tissue sarcoma and acute myeloid leukaemia, as well as in cancers of the bladder, ovary and pancreas, with a total value of $2.95m.

Cancer Australia also supports the13 National Cancer Cooperative Trials Groups. From 2007 to 2013 a total of $30m has been provided, and a further $17m has been awarded to June 2016, to continue the development of cancer clinical trials protocols, including in cancers such as brain, pancreatic and ovarian cancer.

On 1 July 2013, Cancer Australia commenced the Genomic Cancer Clinical Trial Initiative to establish and lead the collaborative development of mutation-specific clinical trials protocols for mutations that are common to several tumour types. Such clinical trials offer opportunities to impact on outcomes in rare and less common cancers.

Cancer Australia also supports people in Australia diagnosed with rare or less common cancers through the Cancer Australia Supporting People with Cancer Grant Initiative. This initiative is designed to improve access to evidence-based information and quality, coordinated and sustainable cancer support networks. Since the commencement of the initiative in 2005, Cancer Australia has provided $5.4m in funding towards 80 community grants nation-wide including support for people with rare and less common cancers.

Survival rates for people diagnosed with cancer in Australia are among the best in the world. Notwithstanding there are variations in outcomes across cancers including for individual rare and less common cancers. Cancer Australia encourages further research and clinical trials into all types of cancer. Although funding for cancer research in Australia has increased for all tumour streams in the period 2006-2011, targeted research funding could support improvements in cancer care and outcomes for cancers with a high impact and burden of disease, including for rare cancers. Cancer Australia has undertaken an update of the overview of funding for cancer research programs and projects in Australia from 2006 to 2011, to be released later this year.