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Rare Cancer: The Different Types

Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD · Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Oct 04, 2022

    Rare Cancer: The Different Types

    Many are familiar with the following types of cancer – breast, pancreatic, and colon, etc. But there are many other types that are rarer in nature. Learn more about types of rare cancer here.

    Types of Rare Cancer

    Esophageal Cancer

    Esophageal cancer is a rare cancer condition in which malignant cancer cells develop in the esophageal tissues. This is usually the result of smoking.

    In the 1960s and 1970s, only about 5% of patients survived for at least 5 years after diagnosis. Today, approximately 20% of patients survive for at least 5 years after diagnosis.

    Barret’s esophagus, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), persistent acid reflux, and chronic heartburn can all raise your risk of getting adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.

    The most typical signs of esophageal cancer include:

    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Chest pain
    • Weight loss
    • Hoarseness
    • Chronic coughing
    • Vomiting
    • Bone pain (if cancer has spread to the bone)
    • Bleeding into the esophagus, which passes through the digestive tract and may cause the stool to turn black

    Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML)

    Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is a type of cancer of the bone marrow and blood. Although CML is a serious and potentially fatal condition, the prognosis is now much better than it once was. It is anticipated that roughly 70% of men and 75% of women will survive for at least 5 years after their diagnosis. Today, the most common form of CML has a 10-year survival rate of about 85%, and patients can anticipate life spans that are almost as long as those of healthy, average persons.

    During the early stages of the disease, CML often develops gradually and advances slowly over several weeks or months.

    Chronic myeloid leukemia warning signs and symptoms:

    • Weakness
    • Fatigue
    • Sleepless nights
    • Weightloss
    • Fever
    • Bone ache (caused by leukemia cells spreading from the marrow cavity to the surface of the bone or into the joint)
    • Increased spleen size (felt as a mass under the left side of the ribcage)
    • With modern therapies, CML can frequently be kept under control for years, and in a small number of cases, it may even be entirely cured.

    Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in Children 

    With one of the highest cure rates of all childhood cancers, acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a rare cancer that affects the immature types of white blood cells known as lymphocytes. It affects children and young people up to age 21. Around 90% of those children can be cured, and after 10 years in remission, patients are declared cured. Approximately 98% of children with this condition go into remission soon after starting treatment.

    Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, often known as ALL, is the most prevalent type of leukemia in children. All can affect different types of lymphocytes called b-cells or t-cells, and it develops when the body produces too many white blood cells called lymphocytes.

    The following are the primary warning signs and symptoms of pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia:

    • Anemia
    • Bruising or bleeding
    • Aching joints and bones
    • Recurring illnesses or fevers
    • Stomach ache
    • Enlarged lymph nodes
    • Having trouble breathing

    The 5-year relative survival rate for all patients is 68.8%. The data further break down to 90% in children and 30-40% in adults. While acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children is more common than other types of cancer, it has good cure rates.

    Anal Cancer

    The American Cancer Society projects that there will be about 9,440 new cases of anal cancer in the United States in 2022, making it considerably less common than colon or rectum cancer.

    Adenocarcinoma, which develops from the glandular cells that produce mucus in the anal canal, is an uncommon/ rare cancer, and is treated similarly to rectal cancer.

    The majority of anal malignancies are linked to HPV infection.

    Signs of anal cancer include:

    • Bleeding in the anus
    • Itchiness and discomfort near the anus
    • Tiny bumps at the bottom and around the anu
    • Mucus oozing out of the bottom
    • Having issues regulating when you poop (bowel incontinence)
    • Frequent bowel movement, with runnier, looser stool

    Anal cancer typically travels to the liver first, but it can also spread to the lungs, bones, and distant lymph nodes.

    Malignant Merkel Cell Tumor 

    Merkel cell carcinoma can be fatal and typically begins in the lymph nodes of the skin. It then migrates to other parts of the body such as the bones, lungs, brain, or other organs. Merkel cell carcinoma is an uncommon, aggressive kind of skin cancer that usually affects the face, head, and neck. It typically presents as a painless, flesh-colored, or bluish-red lump growing on your skin.

    Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare cancer which most frequently affects older people or people with compromised immune systems, is more fatal than melanoma and accounts for around one-third of all identified cases of the disease. It manifests as a rapidly expanding, non-painful red nodule that can spread quickly.


    • Merkel cell cancer might resemble a sore
    • A pink or crimson spot
    • A crimson, slightly elevated area that resembles a sore
    • Swiftly expanding, occasionally bleeding area on your skin
    • Growth that is firm, dome-shaped, and grows swiftly
    • A stasis or cyst
    • A developing sore
    • Any area or bulk that rapidly expands

    Merkel cell carcinoma is generally treatable with surgical and nonsurgical therapy, especially if detected early. Treatments are frequently very personalized, depending on the location, size, depth, and degree of dissemination of the tumor as well as the patient’s general condition.

    Patients with locally contained merkel cell carcinoma have a 78% 5-year survival probability, while those whose cancer has migrated to the lymph nodes or other surrounding structures have a 52% 5-year survival rate.

    Thymic Cancer

    Thymic carcinoma begins in the thymus, but it is more likely to migrate to the lining of the lungs and other regions of the body. This rare cancer can occasionally spread to the lining of the lung, known as the pleura.

    A cough and chest pain are among the symptoms of thymoma and thymic cancer, respectively. The others are the following:

    • A cough that won’t stop
    • Respiratory difficulty
    • Sternal pain
    • A raspy voice
    • Edema in the arms, face, neck, or upper body

    Thymic tumors are the most frequent tumors in the front mediastinum (the front region of the chest cavity), but overall they are uncommon. In the US, there are only around 400 instances of them per year (1,5 cases per million people) (the exact number diagnosed each year is not known),

    Thymic cancer has a 93% 5-year survival rate if it stays within the thymus alone, a 79% 5-year survival rate if it has spread to surrounding tissues or organs and/or local lymph nodes, and a 40% 5-year survival rate if it has reached distant parts of the body. Age and ethnicity are the only known risk factors for thymic carcinoma. No specific inherited, environmental, or lifestyle risk factors have been strongly linked. Some studies have hypothesized a possible link with radiation exposure to the upper chest region, but this has not been confirmed.


    Hepatoblastoma survival rates have reached 80-90%. This rate depends on stage at diagnosis. Patients with completely resected tumors have a better than 85% chance of surviving. Hepatoblastoma is a rare tumor that develops from liver cells. It is the most common carcinogenic (malignant) liver tumor in young children. It occurs most frequently in the right lobe of the liver.

    Symptoms and signs include:

    • A significant abdominal mass
    • An enlarged abdomen
    • Weight loss
    • Reduced appetite
    • Vomiting
    • Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)
    • Scratchy skin
    • Anemia

    More than half of children with hepatoblastoma, a rare cancer, are cured, and the prognosis is even better for kids with small tumors in the liver. As is the case with most cancers, children have substantially greater cure rates than adults do.

    Patients with entirely resected tumors have a better than 85% probability of surviving; the likelihood is roughly 60% for those with metastatic disease that respond to chemotherapy. Survival rates have reached 80-90%; this rate relies on staging at diagnosis.


    One of the most dangerous types of rare cancer that starts in the brain is glioblastoma, formerly known as glioblastoma multiforme (gbm).

    Glioblastoma has an incidence of 3.21 per 100,000 persons, a median age of diagnosis of 64 years, and is more common in men than in women. It accounts for 47.7% of all cases of malignant brain and other cns tumors.

    Glioblastoma signs and symptoms can include:

    • Headaches
    • Personality changes
    • Nausea
    • Stroke-like symptoms
    • Perplexity or deterioration in mental capacity
    • Loss of memory
    • Changes in temperament or irritation
    • Trouble with balance
    • Urinating uncontrollably
    • Vision issues including double vision, blurry vision, or reduced peripheral vision

    When you have a headache due to glioblastoma, you’ll probably feel discomfort right after you get up. The pain is chronic and tends to get worse if you cough, move around, or exercise. You might also feel throbbing, vomiting, or nausea, depending on where the tumor is located.

    The average duration of survival for glioblastoma patients is predicted to be only 8 months, the 5-year survival rate for glioblastoma patients is only 6.8%, and more than 10,000 people in the United States die from the disease each year.

    Ewing Sarcoma

    Ewing Sarcoma is a rare cancer that can affect any bone, although it most usually affects the bones of the legs and pelvis. Less frequently, it can also affect the chest, abdomen, limbs, or other soft tissues.

    What causes Ewing’s Sarcoma? This is usually due to chromosomal rearrangements between chromosomes #11 and #22, which alter the location and function of genes. This results in a gene fusion known as a fusion transcript.

    Symptoms include:

    • Discomfort, swelling, or tenderness close to the affected area
    • Bone pain
    • Excessive fatigue
    • Fever without apparent reason,
    • Weight loss without conscious effort

    About 85% of children and young people with Ewing Sarcoma have stiffness, pain, swelling, or soreness in the bone or in the tissue surrounding the bone. Pain can come and go and is usually milder at night.

    What is the prognosis for patients with Ewing Sarcoma over the long term? According to the American Cancer Society, patients with metastatic disease have a 5-year survival rate of 15% to 30%, while the overall five-year survival rate for localized Ewing Sarcoma is 70%.

    Kaposi Sarcoma

    The lining of blood and lymph vessels is where Kaposi’s Sarcoma develops. Kaposi’s Sarcoma tumors (lesions) often take the shape of painless purplish spots on the legs, feet, or face, though they can also develop in the genital region, mouth, or lymph nodes.

    Human herpesvirus 8 (hhv-8), also known as the Kaposi’s Sarcoma-associated herpesvirus, is the virus that causes Kaposi’s Sarcoma. The virus spreads primarily through saliva during sexual contact or interactions between a mother and child. People with healthy immune systems can carry the virus without experiencing any negative effects.

    Symptoms and indications of sarcoma and Kaposi:

    • Slightly elevated patches or lumps on the skin, in the mouth and/or throat, that are purple, pink, brown, black, blue, or red
    • Inflammation brought on by a blockage in the lymphatic system is known as lymphedema.
    • Unidentified chest pain or a cough,
    • Unaccounted for abdominal or intestinal pain

    Key Takeaways

    If you or someone you know has rare cancer, you may need to travel to find a doctor or cancer center that has experience treating that cancer. ​Larger cancer centers or hospitals are also more likely to have clinical trials (research studies) you might be able to take part in. For any concerns regarding your health, or if you suspect that you have cancer, consult your doctor immediately. 

    Learn more about Cancers here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    John Paul Abrina, MD

    Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

    Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Oct 04, 2022

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