Rare cancers think tank

RARE and less common cancers kill 24,000 Australians a year, highlighting the need for greater public awareness and research, says an expert.

THEY’RE very hard to diagnose, while new treatments and research funding lags behind the much more common ones like breast or prostrate cancers, says Professor Mei Krishnasamy, president of the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA).

She was speaking to AAP ahead of the annual COSA scientific meeting in Hobart, where national and international experts will discuss new research, treatment and other issues related to rare and less common cancers. About 42,000 Australians are diagnosed each year – around 30 per cent of all cancer cases. Prof Krishnasamy said there’s 200 kinds of rare and less common cancers, including thyroid, brain, pancreatic, kidney and testicular cancers. “They can be very hard to diagnose as people will often present with quite vague symptoms and they don’t often follow a very recognisable pattern,” she said. “General practitioners may see one, if any, of these types of cancers at all in their career. “They are hard to pick up early, so there is a real need for us to increase awareness and knowledge of these types of cancers.” People also need to have access to information about where to find experts in these specialised fields. “Getting people into care and to the appropriate treatment quickly can be very challenging,” she said. Meanwhile, the Stafford Fox Medical Research Foundation has given $3 million to help Walter and Eliza Hall Institute scientists develop new strategies for diagnosing and treating patients with rare cancers in Australia. They hope to come up with effective treatments for rare cancer patients by genetically matching their cancers to existing anti-cancer medications used for more common cancer types.