Any part of our body can develop cancer. However, there are some so rare that they are unknown. Let’s see them.
Every year 18 million cancers are diagnosed in the world. We also know that there are more than 200 different types of cancer, as they can appear in any organ or tissue of our body. Anyway, almost 13 million of these 18 million cases belong to one of the 20 most frequent cancers .
Only lung and breast cancer account for 25% of all cancer cases. Together with colon, prostate, skin, stomach, etc., they make up the most common cancers and those most frequently diagnosed.
Despite this, there are some types that appear much less frequently. In today’s article we will talk about some of the rarest cancers in the world .
- We recommend you read: “The 20 most common types of cancer: causes, symptoms and treatment”
Is cancer the same as tumor?
By cancer we understand all that disease that we suffer when, for different reasons, some group of cells in our body lose the ability to regulate their growth, begin to replicate uncontrollably and can spread throughout the body.
In any case, it is not always when a group of cells divide in an uncontrolled manner that we speak of cancer . If they remain static and do not begin to destroy the tissue or organ in which they are found, we are dealing with a benign tumor.
- We recommend you read: “The 22 most common myths about cancer, debunked”
If, on the contrary, these cells acquire the ability to destroy and / or invade other surrounding organs and tissues or even to move to other areas of the body (metastasis), we are talking about a malignant tumor or cancer.
Why are there cancers so frequent and others so rare?
Absolutely all cells in our body can become cancer, as this transformation occurs when there are mutations in their genetic material that make them lose the ability to regulate their functioning and replication.
But the point is that the transition from a “healthy” to a “cancerous” cell is a process in which basically two factors intervene: the frequency of reproduction of the cell and the exposure to carcinogenic compounds suffered by the tissue or organ from which it be part .
First, the frequency of reproduction. All cells in our body must regenerate, that is, replace “old” cells with “new” ones. And this is achieved through cell reproduction, in which one cell give rise to a daughter. Depending on the organ and how exposed it is to injury, cells will have to be renewed more or less frequently.
For example, skin cells, which are constantly exposed to the external environment, must be renewed every 10 – 30 days. Those of the heart, on the other hand, being well protected, can be more than 15 years without the need to regenerate.
Taking into account that with each cell reproduction it is possible that mutations appear that, potentially, can end up making the cell carcinogenic, the more times the cells of a specific organ or tissue reproduce, the more likely they will develop cancer.
For this reason, skin cancer is so common and heart cancer is one of the rarest, since its cells divide very seldom throughout life, so it is unlikely that a carcinogenic mutation will arise in them.
Second, how exposed the organ is to carcinogenic compounds also plays a role. A clear example is the lungs, which through respiration absorb toxic products that, in the long run, increase the probability of developing cancer since they encourage the appearance of mutations. In contrast, the spinal cord, for example, is not as exposed to carcinogens, so developing cancer in it is more unlikely.
What are the less common cancers?
Below we present some of the cancers with the lowest incidence in the population, which appear in less than 6 people per 100,000 inhabitants . These are cancers that are very rarely diagnosed but deserve the same attention and awareness as the other more common cancers.
1. Heart cancer
Heart cancer is one of the rarest types of cancer in the world . In fact, it is estimated that its incidence is less than 0.30%. Also, 9 out of 10 times it happens, it is a benign tumor. When it is a malignant tumor we speak of angiosarcoma.
In this case, heart cancer hinders the oxygenation of the body as it blocks the flow of blood both inside and outside. It is one of the rarest cancers out there as the cells of the heart are renewed only every 15 years, so it is very unlikely that in the course of a lifetime there will be time for enough mutations to accumulate to lead to a tumor.
2. Male breast cancer
99% of breast cancers occur in women. When a man suffers it (usually between 60 and 70 years old) it is because he has been exposed to high radiation , because, due to an endocrine disorder, he has high concentrations of estrogen (female sex hormone) or because there is a lot of history in his family of breast cancer in women.
3. Nasal cancer
Nasal cancer is cancer that occurs in the cells that line the epithelium of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses . Despite being very rare, it can be highly dangerous if not treated in time. One of the main symptoms is recurrent nosebleeds.
It is usually caused by exposure to certain toxic chemicals, smoking (especially if the person has a tendency to expel smoke through the nose) or an infection with the Human Papilloma Virus.
4. Foot cancer
Foot is a very rare type of cancer, and this low frequency is where one of its main problems lies: people do not ask for medical attention. Foot pain, stiffness, and unusual sensations in this area can be indicative of cancer .
Although it can be cancer of the bones or nerves, most cases are skin cancers located on the feet. They make up only 3% of skin cancers and their low frequency can be explained basically because they are not usually exposed to the sun, so it is unlikely that harmful mutations will arise in their cells.
5. Gastrointestinal stromal cancer
Gastrointestinal stromal cancer is very rare. It consists of malignant tumors in the connective tissue (nerves, muscles, fat …) of the digestive tract. Gastrointestinal cancers are very common, but they usually appear in the epithelial cells of the intestine, not in the connective tissue. This type of cancer represents 1% of all gastrointestinal cancers .
This “soft tissue” cancer usually appears after 50 years of age, affecting men and women equally.
6. Salivary gland cancer
Salivary gland cancer is one of the less common types of cancer. In addition, most of them are benign and do not usually present any symptoms , so they are discovered by accident during a routine dental exam.
This type of cancer develops in the glands that produce saliva in both the mouth and throat. In case it is malignant, it must be treated quickly. Its causes are not too clear, since tobacco and alcohol, which in theory should be causative agents, do not increase the risk of suffering from it.
7. Vaginal cancer
Vaginal cancer is a very rare cancer that represents only 1% of the cases of tumors in the female reproductive system . It is usually a skin cancer located in the vagina that, if detected quickly and does not have time to metastasize, can be treated by surgery.
It has been observed that having suffered from genital warts increases the risk of developing them, so if you have this history and you notice unusual irritation and / or bleeding, you should consult a doctor.
8. Spinal cord cancer
Spinal cord cancer is a type of bone cancer that is diagnosed in 1 in 1,000,000 people . It is one of the rarest, so its causes are still unknown. Like all bone cancers, they are often fatal.
Usually causes headache, neck pain, blurred or double vision, tingling in the extremities, loss of bladder control … Chemotherapy and radiation are not helpful, and surgery, since it involves the spinal cord, is very complicated and many times the tumor cannot be removed.
9. Cartilage cancer
Cartilage cancer is so rare that in the last 60 years just over 1,000 cases have been diagnosed worldwide . It is the cancer that develops in the cartilage of, especially, the spinal cord, the ribs and the jaw.
It is a very dangerous cancer as it spreads rapidly to other places and, if it occurs in the spinal cord, it can cause paralysis. Treatment consists of surgical removal and administration of chemotherapy.
10. Thyroid cancer
Thyroid cancer is a rare cancer that occurs in the thyroid, an endocrine gland that produces hormones to regulate metabolism throughout the body. Cancer, in addition to causing difficulty swallowing, neck pain, voice changes , etc., causes the production of hormones to be affected.
For this reason, it usually causes hypothyroidism, which consists of the difficulty of the thyroid to produce hormones, which leads to blood pressure disorders, a tendency to have high cholesterol, problems regulating body temperature, impaired sleep rhythms , heart rate changes, etc.
Treatment will consist of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or combinations of these, although thyroid hormone replacements will have to be taken for life to prevent hypothyroidism, as the treatment destroys the gland.