Rare cancer profile

Over on our Facebook page, several people have commented that while it’s great to increase awareness about breast cancer during the month of October, they wish that other forms of cancer received the same attention. We agree, and so we’ve decided to post a profile of some of the most rare types of cancer. We hope you’ll pass this along to your friends, family and co-workers, who may never have heard of these cancers, either! The cancers listed below are in no particular order, and additional content can be found by visiting

Malignant Meningioma: this type of cancer is extremely rare, and it occurs when a fast-growing tumor forms on the meninges, or membranes that protect the spinal cord and brain. This cancer is typically diagnosed in middle-aged women, but accounts for only five percent of all meningiomas. It can spread to other parts of the body. In general, doctors cannot diagnose this type of cancer before operating and examining the tumor – some patients must undergo several operations, as well as radiation. Sometimes, doctors can remove the tumor completely, but it depends on the location of the tumor. These types of tumors are usually treated by an oncologist as well as a neurosurgeon. A great resource for Meningioma information can be found by visiting the Massachusetts General Hospital Neurological Service website.

Nodular Melanoma: this is the most rare form of melanoma, and is also considered the most deadly. It accounts for less than twenty percent of all melanoma cases. It can be found on any part of the body and is more frequently diagnosed in men. Typically, patients with this form of cancer are older than sixty. Nodular melanoma grows more quickly than other melanomas, and the tumors associated with this cancer are said to be much thicker [that is, they penetrate the skin more deeply] than other melanomas. Unlike other melanomas, this type of cancer does not always manifest on a mole that already exists – it may show up in a spot where the individual never had a mole or lesion before. The nodular melanoma prognosis is generally grim, as it takes much longer for people to notice this form of cancer than others. Nodular melanoma, or NM, is characterized by a dark-pigmented, dome-shaped mole or lesion. A good rule of thumb from SkinCancerNet: if you notice a new mole or lesion where one did not previously exist, call a dermatologist immediately.

Rhabdomyosarcoma: a rare cancer that occurs in the muscle tissue. You may remember that this is the form of cancer that took the life of young Ellie Shoal Potvin, who we featured in a previous news post. It is found most often in the arms, legs, urogenital tract, or head and neck of young children. It is especially rare in adults. Diagnosis of this form of cancer is often delayed, as there may be few symptoms. This is a problem, as rhabdomyosarcoma is aggressive and the tumors grow quickly and spread to other parts of the body rapidly. Oncologists do not yet know what causes this cancer; in fact, most children with this disease do not have any risk factors – not even genetic mutations. Chemotherapy is generally recommended for children with rhabdomyosarcoma. If the cancer is discovered early enough, most children will survive and enter into remission, but if the cancer spreads, as Ellie Potvin’s did, it is often difficult to treat. More information can be found by visiting Lift Up Ellie.

Ewing’s Sarcoma: this form of cancer is usually found in long, flat bones of children and adolescents, but some adults also develop this disease. It is characterized by small, circular tumors. The most common locations for Ewing’s Sarcoma are the pelvis, the “trunk,” and the thigh. Unlike other types of cancer, that begin somewhere else and then spread to the bones, Ewing’s Sarcoma manifests in the bone [it is therefore classified as a "Primary Bone Cancer"]. Doctors do not know what causes this cancer. Symptoms include pain and swelling at the site of the tumor. Because it can spread, even when the tumor is quite small [known as "microscopic spread"] oncologists prefer to treat patients with chemotherapy, which addresses the entire body, as well as radiation to the tumor site. Some patients also undergo surgery. Sometimes, Ewing’s Sarcoma can weaken the bones, causing bone fractures. If a patient is diagnosed in the earliest stages and undergoes chemo, the survival rate associated with this cancer is promising, but if the cancer has spread, it may be difficult to treat.

Malignant Mesothelioma: you may have seen commercials on TV mentioning this form of cancer, which is caused by asbestos exposure. It is generally diagnosed in middle aged men, but in the past decade, more cases in women have been reported. People who worked with asbestos or asbestos products are at a higher risk of developing this cancer. There are three types: Pleural Mesothelioma, which occurs in the mesothelium, or lining, of the lungs and is the most common form of this cancer; Peritoneal Mesothelioma, which is found in the lining of the abdomen, and Pericardial Mesothelioma, which is especially rare and is discovered in the lining of the heart. Symptoms of mesothelioma are often similar to symptoms of the flu or lung cancer, and so it may be difficult to diagnose. In fact, countless people receive a mis-diagnosis when their mesothelioma cancer is in the earliest stages [when it is easiest to treat] and by the time their oncologist is able to accurately diagnose them, it is too late. There is no cure for this cancer, and it is known to be aggressive and extremely tedious to treat. Less than 2,500 Americans are diagnosed annually. For more information, we recommend visiting the Mesothelioma & Asbestos Awareness Center.

Malignant Mixed Mullerian Tumor: known as MMMT, this is a rare form of cancer found in the uterus. It is comprised of a mix of sarcoma and carcinoma cells. There are two known types: Homologous MMMT, which is found in the smoother uterine tissues, and Heterologous MMMT, which is located in the skin, muscle or bones outside of the uterus. It is usually discovered in post menopausal women older than 65. Some physicians believe that previous Tamoxifen therapy may be a risk factor for this form of cancer. Other doctors report that women who are obese, have had previous adenocarcinomas, and may have had estrogen therapy are at an increased risk of receiving an MMMT diagnosis.

The lesson that we can learn from study of the rarest forms of cancer is to pay attention to your body, and see your doctor if you notice any type of change.


One Response to “Rare cancer profile”

  1. Mary says:

    Thank you for acknowledging that other cancers exist besides breast cancer – because they DO. Although breast cancer is prevalent, it does have early testing, other cancers do not. Please find below, the list of the most deadly cancers – often the people that have these cancers feel that they are the poor stepsiblings to breast cancer – that when the NFL etc wear pink, that no one gives a damn about them. Please remember all cancer patients in your thoughts, prayers, and donations. Cancer is a horrible thing to happen to anyone and everyone deserves a lifetime, not just breast cancer patients!

    The ACS and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reveals there are other cancers that are far more deadly to the population as a whole.

    1. Pancreatic cancer. Although the risk for both men and women of developing cancer is 1 in 76, this is one of the deadliest cancers. One out of five people will live for at least a year after diagnosis, and fewer than four percent will live past five years. According to the ACS, surgery for pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult to perform.

    2. Lung cancer. Lung cancer takes top position among the deadliest cancers. It’s the leading cause of cancer-related death in men and women. Most likely to be diagnosed in people 45 years or older, there’s a one in 16 chance that a woman will get lung cancer; it’s one in 13 for men, reports the ACS.

    3. Breast cancer. Breast cancer comes in second behind lung cancer as a leading cause of death for women. A woman has a three percent chance of dying from breast cancer, according to the ACS.

    4. Ovarian cancer. The overall five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is 45.9 percent: it’s 45.8 percent for white women and 37.4 percent for African-American women, reports the NCI. The average age at diagnosis is 63 years old.

    5. Colorectal cancer. For men and women separately, this is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. However, when the sexes are combined, it’s the second leading cause of death, states the ACS. A woman has a 5.3 percent likelihood of dying from colorectal cancer.

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