Dialog Box

What is a rare cancer?

The term ‘rare cancer’ actually encompasses hundreds of different cancers. Although each type affects a small number of people – which is why it’s called ‘rare’ – collectively they add up.  

Approximately 52,000 Australians are diagnosed with a rare or less common cancer each year – that’s one person every 10 minutes. Some 25,000 people lose their lives – that’s 69 people each day.  

While one in three cancer diagnoses in Australia are rare or less common, they contribute to over half of all cancer deaths.


Rare and less common cancers  

A cancer is rare or less common if:  

  • It is very unusual and seen in very few people. 

  • You are much younger or older than people who are typically diagnosed with it. 

  • It affects children. 

  • It is a common cancer in an unexpected location, such as a melanoma that started in the eye. 

  • It started somewhere unexpected, such as in bones.  

  • It is usually diagnosed early but has been found at an advanced stage, such as stage 4 cervical cancer. 

  • It is a small sub-type of a common cancer, such as metastatic triple negative breast cancer.

Examples of rare cancers, which can be found anywhere in the body, include:


Complex cancers

A cancer is considered complex if: 

  • It is not responding to treatment as expected  

  • It is considered treatable (that is, it can be kept stable) but is not curable. 

  • It is a small subtype of a common cancer.  

  • You have been told there are no further standard treatment options.  


We can help

No one should have to go through their cancer journey alone. 

If you think you might have a rare, less common, or complex cancer, you are not alone. Call us on 1800 257 600 or email support@rarecancer.org.au. Similarly, if you have a common cancer but require additional support, please contact our team.

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