Rare tumors: a blue ocean of investigation

Front Med. 2023 Apr;17(2):220-230. doi: 10.1007/s11684-023-0984-z. Epub 2023 Apr 26.


Advances in novel drugs, therapies, and genetic techniques have revolutionized the diagnosis and treatment of cancers, substantially improving cancer patients' prognosis. Although rare tumors account for a non-negligible number, the practice of precision medicine and development of novel therapies are largely hampered by many obstacles. Their low incidence and drastic regional disparities result in the difficulty of informative evidence-based diagnosis and subtyping. Sample exhaustion due to difficulty in diagnosis also leads to a lack of recommended therapeutic strategies in clinical guidelines, insufficient biomarkers for prognosis/efficacy, and inability to identify potential novel therapies in clinical trials. Herein, by reviewing the epidemiological data of Chinese solid tumors and publications defining rare tumors in other areas, we proposed a definition of rare tumor in China, including 515 tumor types with incidences of less than 2.5/100 000 per year. We also summarized the current diagnosis process, treatment recommendations, and global developmental progress of targeted drugs and immunotherapy agents on the status quo. Lastly, we pinpointed the current recommendation chance for patients with rare tumors to be involved in a clinical trial by NCCN. With this informative report, we aimed to raise awareness on the importance of rare tumor investigations and guarantee a bright future for rare tumor patients.

Keywords: clinical trials recommendation; diagnosis flowchart; rare tumors; treatment strategy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • China / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Prognosis


  • Biomarkers