"ASCO recognizes that optimal oncology care requires the integration of palliative care practices and principles across the trajectory of cancer care." That statement drew very loud and sustained applause at the annual meeting of the American Association of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) in March, when the AAHPM President, Dr. Amy Abernethy, recognized ASCO for its partnership and commitment to palliative care. There has been a real shift in the landscape for both cancer care and palliative care, with fabulous new opportunities emerging, yet we still have challenges to deal with (both old and new).
To continue the momentum in the field, the first co-sponsored Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium will launch October 24-25, 2014, in Boston. This follows on the heels of ASCO’s longstanding interest in symptom science across disease sites, understanding and managing cancer treatment toxicities, a focus on patient- and family-reported outcomes, and the science of outcomes measurement, as well as keen interest in effective and compassionate end-of-life care, psychosocial care, and cancer survivorship. Just like the other ASCO symposia, this meeting focused on palliative care in oncology is expected to draw a dedicated, multidisciplinary group of health professionals from oncology and related disciplines. The sessions that have been planned are creative and include the most recognized leaders in palliative care and oncology. Like other ASCO symposia, there are scientific sessions (oral abstracts and posters) where new data will be presented and discussed. This is another big step forward for cancer care, for palliative care as a discipline, and for patient and families who face serious illness.
Prior to 2006, there were few palliative care fellowships and palliative care was not a recognized subspecialty of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). This ABMS recognition finally came to fruition in 2006, and the first subspecialty certification exam in Hospice and Palliative Medicine was offered in 2008. After this event, I noticed a significant expansion of interest in this field and the growth of fellowship training opportunities and attention to the field.
The next “big bang” was the publication in the New England Journal of Medicine of Dr. Jennifer Temel’s study on the early integration of palliative care in patients with metastatic lung cancer,1 followed 18 months later by ASCO’s publication in the Journal of Clinical Oncology of its Provisional Clinical Opinion (PCO) on “The Integration of Palliative Care into Standard Oncology Care.2 The PCO concluded that “combined standard oncology care and palliative care should be considered early in the course of illness for any patient with metastatic cancer and/or high symptom burden.” And finally, 18 months after this PCO was published, the Institute of Medicine published on September 10, 2013, its report entitled “Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis,"3 clearly acknowledging palliative care as an important component of high-quality cancer care to be initiated at the time of cancer diagnosis.
So the stage is set for the inaugural Palliative Care in Cancer Symposium in Boston on October 24-25 (see www.pallonc.org for details). The meeting is co-sponsored by the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM), the American Society of Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), and the Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer (MASCC).
Why is it important to highlight palliative care in oncology at a meeting like this? There are many oncology meetings with some palliative and supportive care content and various palliative care and supportive care meetings that have some oncology content; however, there is a critical gap at the intersection of palliative care in oncology. This symposium addresses this gap. It will feature some of the best thinkers and key leaders in this realm, attract a multidisciplinary audience, and generate a great deal of dialogue as major challenges in science and cancer care delivery are explored. There will be tons of engagement both in person and via social media (using the hashtag #pallonc). I hope you, too, will join in to learn and share.