History of the Journal of Clinical Oncology

The Early Years
Joseph R. Bertino, MD, JCO Editor in Chief, 1983-1987

As ASCO entered its second decade, interest and participation in the young organization had grown sufficiently to allow Society leaders to begin thinking about ways to expand the scope of its influence and activities on oncology-related issues at the national level. A key component of this expansion effort was the promotion of clinical science and education, and an institutional journal to communicate updated information on clinical cancer research was identified by ASCO leaders as an ideal tool for achieving this goal.

In April 1981, the ASCO Scientific and Publications Committee, chaired by Emil Frei III, MD, proposed that the Society start the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO). In a letter to ASCO members circulated that year, Dr. Frei announced that the JCO would “become an important addition to the scientific and educational functions of our Society and will serve as the official Journal of the Society.” Plans were made to publish the new Journal in association with Grune & Stratton, and Joseph R. Bertino, MD, was selected as the Founding Editor-in-Chief of the JCO.

The JCO debuted on January 1, 1983. It was 70 pages long and included 10 articles. “The aim of the Journal of Clinical Oncology,” said Dr. Bertino in an editorial printed in that issue, “is to be a focus for communication for research pertaining to the clinical disciplines of oncology.” George P. Canellos, MD, who served as one of the JCO’s first Associate Editors and eventually succeeded Dr. Bertino as Editor in Chief, further outlined the editorial vision of the young Journal, saying that it sought to “attract clinical therapeutic trials, studies of human disease as well as the clinical pharmacology of new chemotherapeutic and biologic agents.”

The goal was lofty, and as Dr. Bertino recalled in an interview in 2000, “It was a rocky first year. People don’t like to put their work in a new journal.” However, he was able to convince some leading clinical investigators to publish their research, and the first volume contained reports by Sydney Salmon, MD, Saul Rosenberg, MD, Samuel Hellman, MD, Bernard Fisher, MD, and John Durant, MD. By the end of his tenure, in 1987, the size of each issue had more than doubled, and the installation of a multidisciplinary Editorial Board and a peer-review process had laid the groundwork for the continued development of a high-quality journal.

Building a Reputation
George P. Canellos, MD, JCO Editor-in-Chief, 1987-2001

During his 14-year tenure as Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Canellos built on the foundation laid by Dr. Bertino, presiding over the development of editorial innovations and products that would secure the JCO’s position as the premier publication in its field. “The fledgling journal was a lot of hard work,” he recalled shortly after he stepped down from his position, in 2001. “We had some competition even in those early years, as some new journals focusing on clinical cancer emerged at both the national and international levels.” The question of how to distinguish the JCO from these journals was critical to the future editorial development of the young publication. “We were convinced that making JCO visible outside of the United States was crucial because the field was growing around the world,” Dr. Canellos said. “Promoting the Journal at international meetings and soliciting key papers at the time of their initial presentation helped a great deal” in this endeavor.

Indeed, by the time of his departure from the top editorial post at the JCO, more than 50% of manuscript submissions received by the Journal came from outside the United States. A robust translation program was also initiated during Dr. Canellos’ term. “We wanted to create a journal that was open to the whole world and not just North America,” he recalled. In 1998, the first Spanish-language edition of the journal was published on a quarterly schedule, and three issues of a Chinese-language edition were also distributed (the translation program now consists of Spanish and Polish editions, with others under exploration). The following year, the domestic and international visibility of the JCO was further enhanced by the addition of full-text, searchable article archives to the Journal’s official website, which had been introduced in 1996.

Other highlights of Dr. Canellos’ editorship included the debut of the supplementary series Classic Papers and Current Comments, which offered updated data and author commentary on clinical research previously published in the JCO, and the move, in January 2000, to semimonthly publication. Also in 2000, the Journal introduced “The Art of Oncology: When the Tumor Is Not the Target,” a section designed to highlight the issues of patient communication, ethics and decision-making, and symptom control in the management of advanced cancer.

Into the 21st Century
Daniel Haller, MD, JCO Editor-in-Chief, 2001-2011

Daniel Haller, MD, assumed editorial oversight of the JCO in 2001, two decades after plans for its creation were originally conceived. It was a critical point in the history of the Journal: Now an established, trusted commodity in the international oncology community, JCO faced the challenge of how to remain relevant and timely in a rapidly changing research and health care environment.

To that end, the decision was made to move to self-publication, and on January 1, 2003, exactly 20 years to the date after the first issue of the Journal appeared, the first issue of the JCO produced entirely in-house by ASCO staff was circulated. Self-publication was a pivotal moment in the history of the Journal. Said Dr. Haller at the time, it “will allow the JCO editors to be more flexible and innovative, which will help us respond to the needs of the readership, strengthening the position of the Journal both in ASCO and as the premier journal in clinical oncology.” In-house publication also gave ASCO more control over the quality of the content and rendered the JCO a more cost-effective operation by eliminating the excessive overhead expenses of a commercial publisher.

Self-publication is not the only major change over which Dr. Haller has presided. In 2004, the JCO Editorial Board announced the initiation of an extensive redesign and enhancement project, to include elements of both the print and online versions of the Journal. The redesign was undertaken with the primary goals of making the journal more contemporary, improving readability, and enhancing readers’ ability to find sections and papers of interest to them. A new cover and updated layouts for both the print and online version of the Journal were introduced in January 2004, followed in July by the announcement of a new electronic submission and peer review system designed to shorten the time from manuscript submission to decision. Among the many advantages of this new system, which will publicly launch in November, authors will be able to track the status of their manuscripts through the peer review process. The system is one more way the JCO is keeping pace with the scholarly community.

The comprehensive changes planned for the JCO as it enters it third decade mirror rapidly shifting trends in oncology in general. “Prevention and treatment of cancer are expanding into new and exciting areas of research,” says Dr. Haller. “The JCO will continue to serve as the single most credible, authoritative resource for disseminating significant clinical oncology research—as it has in the last 20 years and as it will continue to do in 2004 and the years ahead.”

Moving Forward
Stephen A. Cannistra, MD, JCO Editor-in-Chief, 2011-Present

Stephen A. Cannistra, MD, became Editor-in-Chief of JCO in May of 2011. Having served JCO in various capacities, including reviewer, associate editor, consultant editor and Editorial Board Member since 1989, Dr. Cannistra brings clinical, research, and editorial experience, along with a strong knowledge of the journal’s history, mission, structure and operations.

During the tenure of Dr. Haller, JCO’s impact factor (which measures the frequency with which the "average article" in a journal has been cited) increased from 8.773 in 2001 to 17.157 in 2011. And Dr. Cannistra hopes to build on what his predecessor has accomplished. 

“As Editor-in-Chief of JCO," says Dr. Cannistra, "I look forward to seeking out ways to maximize our ability to attract the best practice-changing and population-based oncology research and play a greater educational role in the process of clinical investigation."