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Fighting for a cancer free future

Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally and is responsible for over 9 million deaths every year. Globally, about 1 in 6 deaths is due to cancer.

Our research and key clinical collaborators put us at the cutting edge of cancer glycomics, which focuses on the interactions of sugar molecules and the proteins that recognise sugar molecules on the surface of cancer cells.

The Institute for Glycomics and the Australian Centre for Cancer Glycomics (A2CG) are taking a highly integrated, systematic approach to identifying important cancer biomarkers and tumour-associated carbohydrate antigens (TACAs), underpinned by a strategic focus geared towards translational outcomes. Our team of research scientists are dedicated to understanding how cancer glycans can sketch the blueprint for the next wave of diagnostics, drugs and vaccines. Through our vision of harnessing this unique research platform to identify new solutions to cancer, we aim to improve the future of those living with this intractable disease.

Our research and key clinical collaborators put us at the cutting edge of 'cancer glycomics', which focuses on the interactions of sugar molecules and the proteins that recognise sugar molecules on the surface of cancer cells.


Mark von Itzstein AO

Our cancer research areas of focus


Breast cancers occur when cells in the breast grow out of control. It can begin in different parts of the breast, of which there are three main parts: lobules, ducts, and connective tissue. The lobules are the glands that produce milk. Most breast cancers begin in the ducts or lobules. Breast cancer can spread outside the breast through blood vessels and lymph vessels. When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is said to have metastasised.

According to World Health Organisation, breast cancer is the most frequent cancer among women, impacting 2.1 million women globally each year, and also causes the greatest number of cancer-related deaths among women. In 2018, it is estimated that 627,000 women worldwide died from breast cancer – that is approximately 15% of all cancer deaths among women. While breast cancer rates are higher among women in more developed regions, rates are increasing in nearly every region globally.


Leukaemia is the general name given to a group of cancers that develop in the bone marrow. Leukaemia originates in developing blood cells that have undergone a malignant change. This means that they multiply in an uncontrolled way and do not mature properly, leaving them unable to function as they should. Most cases of leukaemia originate in developing white cells. In a small number of cases leukaemia develops in other blood-forming cells, for example in developing red cells or developing platelets. Both adults and children can develop leukaemia but certain types are more common in different age groups. There are several different types and subtypes of leukaemia. Leukaemia can be either acute or chronic.

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) is the most common type of cancer in children. Although most cases of ALL occur in children 1–4 years old, most deaths from ALL (about 4 out of 5) occur in adults. In Australia alone, about 370 people are diagnosed each year. Of these, more than 200 are children under 15.


Lung cancer starts when abnormal cells grow and multiply in the lung in an uncontrolled way. It is one of the most common cancers worldwide, with 2.09 million cases confirmed in 2018, resulting in 1.76 million deaths that same year.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death and the fifth most common cancer diagnosed in Australia. It is responsible for almost 1 in 5 cancer deaths in Australia.

There are two main types of lung cancer:

  • Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
  • Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)


Skin cancers primarily occurs when skin cells are damaged by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. There are three main types of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

Skin cancers are some of the most common cancers worldwide, with 1.04 million non-melanoma cases confirmed in 2018.  Approximately 2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with a skin cancer by the time they are 70. Non-melanoma skin cancer is more common in men, with almost double the incidence compared to women.

Excluding non-melanoma skin cancers, melanoma is the 3rd most common cancer in Australians.


Head and neck cancers occur inside the sinuses, nose, mouth and salivary glands down through the throat. Although these cancers are different, they are treated similarly, so are considered as a group.

Head and neck cancers are amongst the 10 most common cancers in both men and women in Australia. It is estimated to be the seventh most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in 2019.

In 2015, there were 4,633 new cases of head and neck cancer diagnosed in Australia (3,337 males and 1,295 females). In 2019, it is estimated that 5,212 new cases of head and neck cancer will be diagnosed in Australia (3,807 males and 1,405 females).


Prostate cancer develops when abnormal cells in the prostate gland grow more quickly than in a normal prostate, forming a malignant tumour.

Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide, with 1.28 million cases confirmed in 2018. In Australia, it is the second most common cancer diagnosed in men and the third most common cause of cancer death. One in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer by the age of 85. It is more common in older men, with 63% of cases diagnosed in men over 65 years of age.


There are three types of ovarian cancer: the common epithelial type (90% of cases) that arises from the cells on the outside of the ovary; the germ cell type that arises from the cells which produce eggs; and the rare stromal type arising from supporting tissues within the ovary.

Ovarian cancer is the 8th most commonly occurring cancer in women and the 18th most commonly occurring cancer overall. There were nearly 300,000 new cases in 2018.

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Colorectal cancer is a cancer that starts in the colon or the rectum. These cancers can also be named colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where they start. Colon cancer and rectal cancer are often grouped together because they have many features in common.

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide, with 1.8 million cases confirmed in 2018, resulting in 862,000 deaths that same year.


Lymphomas refers to types of cancer that begin in the lymphatic system (the various lymph glands around the body). Lymphomas are the sixth most common form of cancer overall (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer).

There are two main types of lymphoma, which spread and are treated differently:

  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) - accounts for about 90% of lymphomas
  • Hodgkin lymphoma

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Rare cancers is a term which encompasses both rare and less common cancers. Rare cancers are a broad and diverse group of cancers which include cancers with a wide range of incidence and survival outcomes.

It is estimated that 42,000 people are diagnosed with a form of rare or less common cancer in Australia every year.


Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, usually begins in the lining in the upper part of the stomach. It is rare in people under 50 years of age and affects more men than women.

It is one of the most common cancers worldwide, with 1.03 million cases confirmed in 2018, resulting in 783,000 deaths that same year.

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