Rare cancers need more funding to find treatments: researcher

Photo: A researcher calls for more funding into treatments for rare cancers. (ABC News)

Rare cancers account for 30 per cent of cancer deaths and more research funding is needed to find effective treatments, a leading researcher says.

Director of the Sansom Institute for Health Research in Adelaide, Professor Ian Olver — writing in the Medical Journal of Australia — said survival rates could be improved with more targeted research funding.

“I think that the major thing is to make sure that a proportion of money available for research is specifically targeted at rare cancers,” he said.

“I think we need to have some priority-driven funding to drive research.”

Professor Olver said studies of rare cancers always fought for their funding share because the work to find better treatments for more common cancers benefited a greater number of people.

“We don’t want to see any of the common cancers have their funding pulled back,” he said.

“What we just want to see is a recognition that we need to add some funding that will unlock some of the problems with rare cancers.

“It may not just happen spontaneously, because there are more common cancers, but if you put some money specifically towards rare cancers, that will help shift the balance.”

Professor Olver argued treatments for such things as breast cancer could potentially benefit less common cancers too.

“Now that cancers are being understood by their genetic structure we may be able to borrow information from more common cancers and use it to determine the treatment of rare cancers,” he said.

“Now that we’re patenting our treatment of genetic defects … if we found, say, a patent with breast cancer that responded to particular target therapies and we found that same patent in a rare cancer, it would encourage us to use the same treatment.”