The ASCO Annual Meeting

At the 2004 ASCO Annual Meeting, an estimated 26,000 people will assemble in New Orleans to participate in a scientific program that includes 2,113 abstract presentations. The breadth and scope of the four-day event would have seemed unimaginable to the Society’s founders. In 1964, Harry Bisel, MD, ASCO’s first President, recommended that “One full day … be held annually for scientific meeting.”

The founding members were eager to develop a program for presentation, and planning for ASCO’s first scientific meeting began in January 1965. Because of limited time and resources, Society leadership relied on the generous support of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), which allowed the young organization to hold its inaugural conference in conjunction with the AACR Annual Meeting. At the time, Michael Brennan, MD, ASCO’s second President, noted, “This seems to me to be the ideal solution, not only because we have practical problems with respect to setting up a meeting this year but because … even if we had all the time in the world and all the resources … I doubt whether we could do better than to take this course of action during the initial years of the organization’s existence.”

On April 9, 1965, in the Clover Room of the Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, more than 70 members and invited guests attended the short ASCO program, which commenced at 8:00 PM and featured three presentations on leukemia and multiple myeloma. The speakers included Paul Carbone, MD, of the National Cancer Institute; Daniel Bergsagel, MD, of Ontario Cancer Institute; and Charles M. Huguley, MD, of Emory University School of Medicine.

(The program for the first ASCO scientific meeting appears at the end of this article.)

Encouraged by the turnout for ASCO’s first scientific meeting, Society leaders determined that sufficient interest existed to justify the development of future programs. On May 25, 1966, the second Annual Meeting of the Society was held in Denver, again in conjunction with the meeting of the AACR. As a supplement to the scientific program, “Immunology and Cancer,” a separate forum on “The Case Against Krebiozen” examined perspectives on a controversial alternative cancer therapythat had been featured in debates among government officials, physicians, patients, and the popular press in the late 1950s and 1960s. Hired guards strictly limited attendance to ASCO members and select media representatives in order to minimize scrutiny of the proceedings.

As ASCO entered its second decade, the Society’s scientific meeting continued to grow—both in educational scope and attendance—and the program began to take on a form that contemporary Annual Meeting attendees would recognize. In 1970, ASCO established the David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award and Lecture and added it to the Annual Meeting program. The traditional Meeting format of scientific sessions was gradually supplemented by new features, including Educational Workshops (1977), poster sessions and an Exhibit Floor for commercial and scientific organizations (1981), and opportunities for beginning oncologists to informally “Meet the Professor” (1983). By 1982, the Annual Meeting had grown to encompass three full days of concurrent sessions.

The ASCO Annual Meeting continued to be held in conjunction with that of the AACR, but by the early 1990s, logistic difficulties and increasingly divergent goals prompted the AACR to conduct a study to assess the benefits and consequences of sponsoring separate conferences. Although ASCO Board members noted that “the need for basic and clinical research to the oncologic community was sufficient reason to continue the meetings,” the results of the AACR study indicated that the organizations should host separate meetings. ASCO revised its scientific Meeting program and identified a focus on “translational research” as the best way to continue to integrate clinical research with basic science in its proceedings. To further broaden the scope and breadth of the Annual Meeting, ASCO leaders also decided to place increased emphasis on issues related to cancer prevention, clinical practice, and patient advocacy.

The development of an Annual Meeting independent of the AACR was a daunting challenge, and one to which ASCO leadership rose admirably. In his 1994 Presidential Address, George Canellos, MD, highlighted the positive aspects of the Society’s split from the AACR: “The separation of the annual meetings has allowed ASCO to expand its meeting to an extra day and thus increase the number of posters as well as sessions devoted to translational science and topics of interest to the practicing physician and clinical investigator.” The introduction of the Integrated Education Session provided attendees with a forum for hearing the latest advances in research and their clinical applications. The rapid growth of ASCO’s international membership base was a motivating factor for the creation of the first ASCO/European Society for Medical Oncology joint symposium, “Tumor Vaccines,” which debuted at the 1997 Annual Meeting. In 1998, the first ASCO/Federation of European Cancer Societies joint symposium, “Controversies and Challenges in the Management of Rectal Cancer,” and the first International Symposium, “Cancer Around the World,” were held as outreach efforts

Program for the First ASCO Scientific Meeting
“Natural History, Current Therapy, and Perspectives in the Treatmentof Chronic Leukemia”
Charles M. Huguley, MD

“Contributions of Cytogenetic Studies to Our Understanding of and Approaches to the Treatment of Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia”
Paul Carbone, MD

“Recent Advances and Perspective in the Treatment of Multiple Myeloma”
Daniel Bergsagel, MD