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The Next 50 Years: Demanding More from Ourselves and Our Nation

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By Clifford Hudis, MD, FACP, ASCO President

When ASCO was established 50 years ago, its seven founding members could not have imagined the transformation we’ve seen in cancer care even as they imagined and planned for significant advances. At the time, effective systemic treatment options were limited. Today, in addition to screening for some cancers, we have even more effective multi-disciplinary treatment options that are tailored to the many different types of malignancies as well as tumor size, location and genetic makeup. As a direct consequence, we now have a record 13.7 million cancer survivors alive in the U.S. alone.

This is an impressive track record, but it is truly only the beginning. To accelerate the important progress we have made, we must all become even bolder advocates for our field and for our patients.

I find it humbling to lead ASCO as we begin our 50th anniversary year and look back at how our members have had a front-row seat to the field’s most stunning achievements. (You can read about them in our interactive Timeline, and Vote for the “top five” advances). ASCO’s Annual Meeting has played host to a great number of major advances, including the research that turned the frequently aggressive HER2-postive subtype of breast cancer into a far more manageable disease and childhood leukemias into survivable ones (among so many others). Just this past year we highlighted the finding that simple cervical cancer screening methods could save millions of lives in the most remote corners of the world. Similar landmark results have been presented in almost every area of subspecialization and interest our members pursue.

At ASCO, we’re taking steps to position the field for even more (and faster) breakthroughs. Last year, we issued a report that lays out ASCO’s vision for the field through 2030. Our goal was to identify the major drivers of change over the next two decades and begin harnessing them for the good of our patients.

As but one example, a profound driver of change across society and within medicine will be “big data.” ASCO is investing substantial time and resources to launch CancerLinQ – a learning computer network that will unlock and analyze vast amounts of cancer treatment data that have historically been lost to file cabinets and unconnected servers. This ground-breaking initiative will help oncologists deliver high-quality, high-value care with ever better outcomes for patients. Within the past year, we’ve developed a fully-functional prototype and begun moving ahead with the full build of the system, establishing CancerLinQ as a model program across all of medicine.

We’re also working to keep cancer research and access to cancer care front and center on the national agenda. We need increased federal funding for research to ensure continued progress as well as national policies that will ensure people have access to high-quality cancer care. The fact that budget concerns dominate our national dialogue is a challenge, but we need to help all of society see that investments in science, medicine, and cancer research are engines of growth that support economic as well as physical health.

But ASCO can’t achieve the future we want alone. As members of ASCO and the entire oncology community, we all need to step up our individual efforts and advocacy. A few ideas we should all consider:

  • Be bigger cheerleaders for clinical trials – Too many promising lines of research go unexplored for lack of funding or patients. For bigger breakthroughs, we need to learn from more than the 3% to 5% of patients currently enrolled in cancer clinical trials. That will take sustained resources and a renewed commitment by physicians to get our patients into trials.
  • Commit to measuring and improving quality – We have always been concerned about the quality of the care we deliver to patients. It is clear that quality can and should be measured. So that we can make sure that every patient receives the best possible cancer care—based on universal standards. 
  • Engage with our Congressional representatives – Adjusting for inflation, federal funding for the National Institutes of Health is down $6.4 billion in real dollars since 2001 – a functional 23% cut. At every opportunity, we need to remind lawmakers that steady progress against cancer requires a steady investment in and ongoing commitment to research and discovery. In fact, CancerProgress.Net illustrates this relationship perfectly.
  • Invest in young doctors and researchers – We’ve learned that cancer is far more genetically complex and some types remain treatment-resistant despite recent advances. To overcome these challenges, we must attract and inspire the next generation of bright young physicians and scientists in academic and community settings to passionately embrace cancer research.

The years ahead will likely not be any easier than our first 50. We will have to wrestle with unprecedented challenges that test our resolve and require bold thinking, including an anticipated surge in patients as the population of our nation – and the world – continues to age. That financial challenges have arisen just when the scientific progress has become so exciting is frustrating. That this is occurring just as the incidence of cancer worldwide rises is tragic and avoidable.

No doubt, when our founders created this organization they perceived even greater challenges. Their vision of improving the care of patients with cancer has been realized in remarkable ways, but the work is far from done. I know that we, like our predecessors, are up to the challenge. And our patients are counting on us. Please join me and all of your colleagues in answering the call.

To share your views, visit the ASCO@50 & Cancer Progress forum on ASCO Connection. Log in with your username and password or guest account to comment.