Cancer is usually considered a disease of older people, with mortality rates increasing with age for most cancers. One of the key characteristics of rarer cancers, however, is that these cancers place a great burden on children and young families. In every age group (Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and even children) ‘rare’, high-mortality cancers are the most common cause of disease-related death in Australia.
Reasons for the high mortality rates for less common cancers include difficulty in diagnosis (as they are seen less often), standard treatments are often less effective and there is limited access to new therapies.
While there is excellent evidence that participation in clinical trials is associated with better outcomes, these patients have little access to standard clinical trials because they are not financially feasible to run for the small numbers of patients with one ‘rare’ cancer or another.
The Genomic Cancer Medicine Program has developed targeted approaches to inhibit tumour growth and immunotherapies to stimulate an immune response that delivers long-lived tumour destruction. These medicines, which work on differing cancer mechanisms, offer new opportunities for patients. The Program is working to understand more about the heritable causes of cancer and risk management, and developing new diagnostic techniques and treatments to improve the lives of individual patients, and health outcomes for all Australians.