Calls for more funding for rare cancers

AN AUSTRALIAN medical expert says a different approach to treatment of rare cancers is needed, with research showing rare cancers contribute to 30% of deaths from the disease while less than 20% of funding goes to them.

University of South Australia's Professor Ian Olver said in the Medical Journal of Australia, published Monday, that research showed more than 80% of cancer research funding went to blood cancers and five solid cancers (breast, colorectal, prostate, melanoma and lung), while rare cancers such as pancreatic, ovarian and brain received less funding.

Rare cancers are defined as having fewer than six cases per 100,000 head of population a year.

"If less research is being performed to provide data, and the low incidence of rare cancers makes large randomised clinical trials impractical, there are few evidence-based guidelines regarding rarer cancers to which clinicians can refer," Prof Olver said.

He said ovarian cancer was a good example of how approaches to rare cancer treatment needed to evolve.

He said common cancers which had improved survival rates, including breast and bowel, had screenings for early detection.

But a population screening test would be difficult to achieve for ovarian cancer, he said.

"The heterogeneity of ovarian cancer suggests that a population screening test based on a panel of biomarkers will be difficult to achieve."

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