The goals of this project were to assess the status of NCI's rare cancer–focused population science research managed by the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS), to develop a framework for evaluation of rare cancer research activities, and to review available resources to study rare cancers.


Cancer types with an overall age-adjusted incidence rate of less than 20 cases per 100,000 individuals were identified using NCI Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program data. SEER data were utilized to develop a framework based on statistical commonalities. A portfolio analysis of DCCPS-supported active grants and a review of three genomic databases were conducted.


For the 45 rare cancer types included in the analysis, 123 active DCCPS-supported rare cancer-focused grants were identified, of which the highest percentage (18.7%) focused on ovarian cancer. The developed framework revealed five clusters of rare cancer types. The cluster with the highest number of grants (n = 43) and grants per cancer type (10.8) was the cluster that included cancer types of higher incidence, average to better survival, and high prevalence (in comparison with other rare cancers). Resource review revealed rare cancers are represented in available genomic resources, but to a lesser extent compared with more common cancers.


This article provides an overview of the rare cancer–focused population sciences research landscape as well as information on gaps and opportunities.


The findings of this article can be used to develop efficient and comprehensive strategies to accelerate rare cancer research.

See related commentary by James V. Lacey Jr, p. 1300

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