Evidence-based data and rare cancers: The need for a new methodological approach in research and investigation

Eur J Surg Oncol. 2019 Jan;45(1):22-30. doi: 10.1016/j.ejso.2018.02.015. Epub 2018 Mar 2.


Rare cancers are not so rare, their incidence is increasing and, as a group, they have worse survival than the common cancers. These factors emphasise the societal need to ensure sufficient focus on research into their biological basis, aetiological factors, new more effective therapies and organisation of healthcare to improve access to best practice and innovation. Accuracy of diagnosis is one of the first hurdles to be overcome, with around one third of tumours being reclassified - by type or risk group - when subject to a centralised pathology review process. Timely access to appropriate expert knowledge is a second challenge for patients - in Europe this is being addressed by the establishment of European Reference Networks (ERNs) as part of the EU cross border healthcare initiative. There are ERNs for adult solid and haematological cancers and childhood cancers, all of which are individually rare. These ERNs will facilitate creation of large databases of rare tumours that will incorporate knowledge of their molecular features and build an evidence base for the effectiveness of innovative, biology-directed therapies. With an increasing focus on 'real world' outcome data, research methodologies are evolving, to include randomised registry trials and data linkage approaches that exploit the ever-richer information held on patients in routine health care data. The inclusion of genomic analysis into cancer diagnosis, treatment and risk prediction raises many issues for the conduct of clinical research and cohort studies and personal data sharing. Sophisticated means of pseudonymisation, together with full involvement of affected and 'at risk' patients, are supporting novel research designs and access to data that will continue to build the evidence base to improve outcomes for patients with rare cancers.

Keywords: Clinical trial; Evidence based-medicine; Genomic; International collaborations; Observational study; Population-based registry; Rare cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research*
  • Clinical Decision-Making
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Rare Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Rare Diseases / pathology
  • Rare Diseases / therapy*
  • Registries
  • Tissue Banks