Original Publication Date: 27 February, 2017
Publication / Source: Oncology Central
Authors: Young Kwang Chae, Francis J. Giles
Rare cancers when combined are not a rare entity any more; rather, they are ‘common cancers’ as an aggregate. They comprise approximately a quarter of all cancers diagnosed each year worldwide .
Common cancers have more standard-of-care treatment options than rare cancers and some rare cancers do not even have any established effective treatment options. Yet, most oncology trials are performed in common cancers, such as breast or colorectal cancers. By contrast, patients with rare tumors remain under-represented and often neglected. They mostly do not have any clinical trials they are eligible for.
Recently, cancer immunotherapy has undoubtedly been named the major breakthrough in science and medicine. Immunotherapy aims to boost our immune cells, mostly T cells designed to kill cancer cells. Unlike chemotherapy or targeted therapy, it often works across different tumor types regardless of driver oncogenes. T-cell mediated immunotherapy drugs are currently US FDA approved in a variety of cancers types such as lung and bladder cancers. Immunotherapy has also been shown to be effective in rare tumors such as Merkel cell carcinoma or Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Bridging the gap between the two, there is finally good news for patients with rare cancers; they now have a way to access immunotherapy in the clinic. Individuals with rare cancers may join a national immunotherapy clinical trial designed for a wide variety of rare tumors.