Inequality in a cancer diagnosis: 51% of all cancer deaths are caused by a ‘forgotten cancer’

Thursday 24 August, 2017

Rare and less common cancers are responsible for half of all cancer deaths in Victoria, with five-year survival of some as low as seven per cent. This is in stark contrast to survival of up to 90 percent for more common cancers such as breast cancer, as revealed today by Cancer Council Victoria.

Although these ‘forgotten’, or less common cancers, occur less frequently many have lower five-year survival, with some as low as 7-30 per cent. They include cancers of the liver, oesophagus, pancreas, gallbladder, bone and brain.

Despite poor survival outcomes, there has to date been less research into these cancers in comparison to common cancers, and relatively little is known about them.

This Daffodil Day, Friday 25 August, Cancer Council Victoria hopes to raise $1 million to go towards vital research to improve the survival for forgotten cancers.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO, Todd Harper, said that forgotten cancers are a real focus and feature heavily as a priority for the organisation.

“Over the next five year period we would like to see the investment in research increase for cancers that have lower survival. 87 people are diagnosed with cancer in Victoria every day; 23 of these will be diagnosed with a forgotten cancer, yet disproportionately these cancers cause half of all cancer deaths.”

“These cancers affect every age group; from the very young to the very old. What is significant is that the survival rates are very low when compared to a more common cancer, such as breast or prostate cancer. Research is the key to improving survival rates and bringing hope to patients and their loved ones.”

Mr Harper also said: “A cancer diagnosis is always challenging- however if you are diagnosed with a less common cancer, there are fewer treatment options available. At Cancer Council we are for all people and all cancers; now is the time to really look at those less common cancers with lower survival rates, so those diagnosed can have the same hope and treatment possibilities as those with one of the more common cancers. We need to fund the research that will find the answers.”

Initiatives like Cancer Council Victoria’s ‘Forgotten Cancers Project’ will enable scientists to learn more about the causes of these cancers. Since 2011, this project has taken 4,342 biological samples in order to find out why some people get these cancers and others don’t.

Head of the Cancer Epidemiology and Intelligence Division at Cancer Council Victoria, Associate Professor Roger Milne, said that knowledge equals power in relation to combating cancer.

“Preventing cancer requires that we know as much as possible about the cause of it in the first place. By studying the roles of genes, lifestyle and early life environment, the Forgotten Cancers Project is looking at why people develop less common cancers which will put us in a better position to improve the prevention and treatment of these diseases in the future.”

“If we can remove the unknown in a cancer equation, we also remove a lot of the anxiety and provide hope to those affected by cancer.”

The Tharle family know all too well about the impact of cancer since James was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, when he was just 12 years old. Now 14, James has gone through chemotherapy, limb salvage surgery, prosthetic surgery and is learning to walk again. He now dreams of becoming a pilot.

James’ mum, Rachael, said: “We couldn’t believe it when we heard the words ‘your child has cancer.’ Treatment options for osteosarcoma have not changed in 30 years which is very scary. More research is desperately needed for this cancer so families can be offered more treatments and support.” 

James Tharle 

Only about 200 Australians are diagnosed with primary bone cancer each year. It affects people of all ages and very little is known about the causes of the disease.

Every dollar raised on Daffodil Day will fund vital research, prevention programs and support services that bring hope to all Victorians, including people living with less common cancers.

More than 1,900 volunteers are expected to staff about 320 Daffodil Day sites across Victoria on Friday 25 August 2017, with some sites also operating over the weekend. Please visit your local Daffodil Day site on Friday or donate today at daffodilday.com.au. 


About Daffodil Day

 Daffodil Day is on Friday 25 August 2017 and turns 31 this year.
 The daffodil is the international symbol of hope for everyone affected by cancer.
 Every dollar raised will go towards life-saving cancer research, prevention programs and support services.
 The number of new cancer diagnoses in Victoria is expected to rise to 43,000 by 2025 (31,628 Victorians were diagnosed in 2015).

About Cancer Council Victoria

Cancer Council Victoria is a non-profit organisation and has been leading the fight against all cancers since 1936. We focus on cancer research, patient support, cancer prevention and advocacy. For further information visit www.cancervic.org.au or to speak to our experienced
cancer nurses, please call Cancer Council 13 11 20. This is a confidential service for anyone with questions about cancer.

For information, images or interview requests please contact:
Cara Kavanagh, Cancer Council Victoria, M: 0412 304 248 T: 03 9514 6586