The effort to improve diagnosis and treatment for patients with Cancer of the Unknown Primary (CUP) has received a $2.4 million boost from the Medical Research Future Fund.

CUP is a metastatic cancer which has spread from elsewhere in the body, but the site of origin remains unknown.

There are 2,700 new cases of CUP in Australia every year, and the lack of a definitive primary site can restrict treatment options to palliative chemotherapy. 

The new funding will allow Peter Mac clinicians to investigate whether Fibroblast Activation Protein (FAP) is an effective marker for revealing the location of  the primary tumour in  CUP cases on a new type of PET scan.

If successful, this marker could be used to deliver a targeted radionuclide treatment.

The same approach now supports breakthrough treatments in metastatic prostate cancer and for neuroendocrine tumours.

“Cancer of the Unknown Primary only accounts for a small number of patients diagnosed but unfortunately this group have quite poor outcomes and poor survival rates,” says Professor Linda Mileshkin who will lead the research, in collaboration with Peter Mac’s Professor Rod Hicks. 

“That’s in part because, as oncologists, it’s hard to treat patients when we don’t know where the tumour came from.

“FAP protein is commonly found in large amounts in CUP tumours and it seems to play a role in the matrix or the structure which allows a cancer to grow into a tumour mass.”

The research is also supported by Professor Sean Grimmond and Dr Richard Tothill from the University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research (UMCCR), as well as Professor Penny Schofield from the Swinburne University of Technology . 

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt visited Peter Mac on Wednesday to announce the new funding as part of an overall $35M MRFF grant allocation. Minister Hunt also met Peter Mac patient Dale, who was diagnosed with a CUP in 2012.

“My hope and my belief is that this will give real prospects for potentially thousands of patients over the years ahead,” Minister Hunt said of the Peter Mac-led trial.

Peter Mac patient Dale talks with Greg Hunt MP
Peter Mac patient Dale talks with Greg Hunt MP