30,000 Cancer Specialists Gather at 45th ASCO Annual Meeting

May 29, 2009

Annual Meeting News Room
Phone: 407-685-5412
ASCO Media Information Line
Phone: 407-685-4057

--Leaders Open Conference with Call to Reinvest in Cancer Research, Increase Access to Cancer Care--

ORLANDO, Fla. – Thirty thousand cancer experts gathered in Orlando, FL for the 45th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). The meeting is the foremost international gathering on cancer research, featuring more than 4,000 abstracts on advances in cancer prevention, treatment and care.

The theme of this year’s meeting is “Personalizing Cancer Care.” Many of the meeting’s sessions will highlight advances in tailoring treatments to the unique genetics of the individual or the tumor. This approach is helping to identify patients who are most likely to benefit from specific treatments, while allowing patients who will not to avoid unnecessary side effects and costs.

To build on significant progress against cancer to date, Richard L. Schilsky, MD, ASCO President and Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago, called for a sustained national commitment to cancer research and for increased access to cancer care through comprehensive health care reform.

Reinvesting in Cancer Research

“Since taking office, President Obama has vowed to find a cure for cancer in our time and has pledged much-needed increases in research funding through the stimulus bill and 2010 budget,” said Dr. Schilsky. “But it is critical that this commitment is maintained over time. Sustained, dependable funding increases for cancer research are key to accelerating progress against the disease and reducing the toll it takes on patients and society.”

Past investments in cancer research have led to significant advances in preventing, detecting and treating the disease. Today there are more than 11 million cancer survivors in the U.S. – up from just 3 million in the 1970s – and cancer death rates have dropped 18 percent among men and 10 percent among women since the early 1990s.

After years of robust investment through the early part of this decade, funding for cancer research stalled between 2004 and 2008. Adjusted for inflation, budgets for the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute declined by more than 12 percent during that time – a decrease of $500 million in real dollars. President Obama’s recent increases in federal support are a much-needed boost after years of flat funding that delayed the pace of research in this country.

Dr. Schilsky was joined at the press briefing by NCI Director Dr. John Niederhuber, who spoke about NCI’s research priorities and plans for use of the new stimulus funding.

Increasing Access to Cancer Care

Dr. Schilsky also said that a top priority for ASCO is increasing access to cancer care, especially among minorities who are more likely to be uninsured and experience worse cancer outcomes than their white counterparts.

“A profound divide exists in our nation between those with access to care and those without,” said Dr. Schilsky. “Studies show that uninsured Americans are less likely to get cancer screenings, more likely to be diagnosed with advanced stages of cancer, and less likely to survive than individuals with insurance. All patients must have access to high-quality, affordable health care, and comprehensive health care reform is the way to make it happen.”

ASCO is working with the Administration and elected officials to advance policies that increase access to care and eliminate cancer care disparities. ASCO’s recently-issued recommendations include: ensuring equal access to quality health care for everyone with cancer through comprehensive health care reform; increasing research into cancer disparities; increasing enrollment of minorities in cancer clinical trials; and encouraging greater diversity in the oncology workforce.

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ASCO is the world's leading professional organization representing physicians who care for people with cancer. With more than 27,000 members, ASCO is committed to improving cancer care through scientific meetings, educational programs and peer-reviewed journals. For ASCO information and resources, visit asco.org/presscenter. Patient-oriented cancer information is available at www.cancer.net.