Millions of people die of cancer every year; however, out of the over 200 types of cancers, some occur in a small number of people. These cancers are referred to as rare cancers. Rare cancers are those with an incidence of less than 6 people in every 100,000 per year and they make up approximately 22% of all cancers.
The 28th of February being the Rare Disease Day, we chose to focus on a few rare cancers because the majority of people know about the common types of cancers which make up a huge percentage of cancer cases globally.
Types of Rare Cancers
Most gallbladder and bile duct cancers are adenocarcinoma meaning they begin in the mucus glands that line the inside of the gallbladder and the bile duct. Bile duct cancer/ cholangiocarcinoma can either occur in the main bile duct outside the liver (extrahepatic) or within the liver (intrahepatic).
Here are a few types of cancers that are generally rare worldwide:
- Head and Neck Cancers
This term is used to refer to cancers that affect the mouth, nose, throat, salivary glands and other parts of the head and neck. Most of these cancers start in the squamous cells which line the mouth throat and nose (mucosal surfaces). Approximately 80% of these cancers are linked to tobacco use; either smoked or chewed. Alcohol and HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) are the other factors linked to these cancers.
- Thyroid Cancer
The thyroid gland, located at the base of the neck, is a small gland but with major functions such as regulating blood pressure, heart rate, body weight and temperature. When cancer attacks the thyroid gland, a lump can be felt through the skin, you may experience pain in the throat and neck, and have problems swallowing. Some types of thyroid cancer are thyroid lymphoma, medullary thyroid cancer and follicular thyroid cancer, among others. Women are at a higher risk of developing this cancer as compared to men with other factors being certain inherited genetic syndromes and exposure to high radiation levels.
- Neuroendocrine Cancer
The endocrine system is made of cells that produce hormones which are carried to other cells and organs in the body through the bloodstream. Neuroendocrine tumours begin in these hormone-producing cells which can be found in organs such as the lungs and gastrointestinal tract. Neuroendocrine tumours are of different types such as Merkle cell cancer and neuroendocrine carcinoma. The risk factors for neuroendocrine tumours include suppression of the immune system due to diseases like HIV/AIDs, family history with neuroendocrine tumours and Merkle cell polyomavirus (MCV), among other factors. These tumours can cause symptoms like diarrhoea, persistent pain in particular areas and weight loss or gain.
This type of cancer affects the connective tissue which offers support or connects other kinds of tissue in the body. Sarcoma tumours are more common in the bones, muscles, tendons and cartilage. Family history with sarcoma cancer, exposure to radiation and Paget’s disease are some of the risk factors of this tumours. The common symptoms for sarcoma tumours are bone pain, swelling in the affected area and trouble breathing if the tumour presses against muscles or nerves.
- Brain tumours
Tumours that grow in the brain can either start in the brain or start elsewhere in the body and then spread to the brain. Risk factors for malignant brain tumours include previous cancers like leukaemia, exposure to high radiation and genetic conditions like sclerosis and Turner syndrome. Apart from persistent headaches which is a common symptom for brain tumours, other symptoms like seizures, vision and speech problems can also be experienced.
This cancer begins in the infection-fighting cells of the body or the lymphatic system which comprises the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow and thymus gland. The main types of lymphoma are Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The risk factors for this cancer include being male, impairment of the immune system due to infections like HIV or because of drugs that can reduce your immune system. Some symptoms of this cancer include swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, groin and armpits, persistent fatigue and unexplained weight loss.
- Childhood cancers
Also known as paediatric cancers, these cancers occur in children and adolescents. The most common cancers in children are leukaemia, brain and lymphoma cancers which are often caused by gene mutations. Some common symptoms of childhood cancers are unexplained weight loss, excessive bleeding or bruising and constant infections.
Diagnosis of Rare Cancers
The fact that these cancers are rare could bring about some difficulty in their diagnosis. However, with the advancements that have been made, depending on the type of cancer, some of the common tests or procedures done to help with diagnosis of rare cancers include:
- Blood tests: One common blood test is the complete blood count test which evaluates a person’s overall health by determining the level of white and red blood cells, and haemoglobin and platelet levels. Abnormality in the levels of these blood components could indicate the presence of cancer in the body.
- Biopsy: It involves collecting cell samples and examining them under a microscope to determine whether there is any abnormality that could indicate that cancer is present.
- Bone marrow aspiration: This is a type of biopsy for the bone marrow. A sample of bone marrow is taken from the hipbone after which it is analysed to check for cancer cells.
- Imaging tests: There are several imaging tests that can be done for cancer diagnosis. These include positron emission tomography (PET), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerised tomography (CT) scan. These tests are used to give clear and detailed images of internal parts of the body where the cancer is believed to exist.
Before starting a treatment, it is important to consider factors such as whether you wish to have children, your age, and your overall health. Here are some of the gall bladder and bile duct cancer treatment options:
- Surgery: To remove a cancer tumour making it possible for other treatments like chemotherapy and radiation which usually follow after removal of the tumour.
- Chemotherapy: Using anti-cancer drugs to kill the cancer cells to stop their growth.
- Radiation therapy: This involves directing high-energy beams to the affected area to destroy the cancer cells and stop its growth and spread. There are different types of radiotherapy such as brachytherapy which uses radioactive material that is implanted in the body allowing for high radiation doses to be delivered to the affected area.
- Chemoradiation therapy: A combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to kill the cancer cells.
- Immunotherapy: Cancer cells are basically the body’s own cells that have mutated and therefore, the immune system which is meant to fight infections may not identify cancer cells as invaders making it difficult to fight the cancer. What immunotherapy or biologic therapy does is stimulate the body’s immune system to make it aware of the presence of cancer cells so that it can fight the cancer. This therapy can use antibodies made either by the body or in a laboratory and this stops or slows down the growth of the cancer and thereby preventing its spread to other parts of the body.
- Targeted Therapy: Like chemotherapy, targeted therapy uses drugs; however, this treatment works by targeting specific cancer genes, proteins and tissues that promote the growth of the cancer cells. This blocks the growth of cancer cells and prevents them from spreading further.
- Bone marrow or stem cell transplant: This basically refers to the replacement of damaged stem cells with healthy stem cells from a donor or from one’s own stem cells, especially after chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment.
The type of treatment a specialist chooses depends on a number of factors such as the type of cancer one has, the overall health of the patient and the stage of the cancer.
To be able to better diagnose and treat rare cancers, more advanced technology is required and that is what International Medical Treatment Ltd (IMT) can help you find. We partner with some of the best hospitals in India, Thailand, the UAE and Turkey that have the necessary state-of-the-art equipment used in the diagnosis and treatment of even complex cancer cases. Contact IMT today, to find a hospital that offers high quality cancer treatment.