Shortly before I was elected President of ASCO, I attended the 65th birthday party of a current patient. She had been diagnosed 10 years earlier with metastatic breast cancer and hadn’t been sure she wanted to move forward with further treatment. With encouragement, she elected to participate in a clinical trial of an investigational drug that is now widely used to treat breast cancer. Happily, here we were, celebrating with her now-married daughters, their husbands, and three beautiful grandchildren, ages 2, 4, and 8. Such is the importance of clinical trials and promising new therapies.
Clinical research is about saving and improving the lives of individuals with cancer. It’s a continuing story that builds on the efforts of untold numbers of researchers, clinicians, caregivers, and patients. ASCO’s Clinical Cancer Advances report tells part of this story, sharing the most transformative research of the past year. The report also includes our latest thinking on the most urgent research priorities in oncology.
ASCO’s 2020 Advance of the Year—Refinement of Surgical Treatment of Cancer—highlights how progress drives more progress. Surgery has played a fundamental role in cancer treatment. It was the only treatment available for many cancers until the advent of radiation and chemotherapy. The explosion in systemic therapies since then has resulted in significant changes to when and how surgery is performed to treat cancer. In this report, we explore how treatment successes have led to less invasive approaches for advanced melanoma, reduced the need for surgery in renal cell carcinoma, and increased the number of patients with pancreatic cancer who can undergo surgery.
Many research advances are made possible by federal funding. With the number of new US cancer cases set to rise by roughly a third over the next decade, continued investment in research at the national level is crucial to continuing critical progress in the prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.
While clinical research has translated to longer survival and better quality of life for many patients with cancer, we can’t rest on our laurels. With ASCO’s Research Priorities to Accelerate Progress Against Cancer, introduced last year and updated this year, we’ve identified the critical gaps in cancer prevention and care that we believe to be most pressing. These priorities are intended to guide the direction of research and speed progress.
Of course, the effectiveness or number of new treatments is meaningless if patients don’t have access to them. High quality cancer care, including clinical trials, is out of reach for too many patients. Creating an infrastructure to support patients is a critical part of the equation, as is creating connections between clinical practices and research programs. We have much work to do before everyone with cancer has equal access to the best treatments and the opportunity to participate in research. I know that ASCO and the cancer community are up for this challenge.
Howard A. “Skip” Burris III, MD, FACP, FASCO
ASCO President, 2019-2020