50 Years of Progress, 50 Years of ASCO: Grassroots to Global

50 Years of Progress, 50 Years of ASCO: Grassroots to Global

International Perspectives

May 02, 2014

By Nagi S. El Saghir, MD, FACP

Chair, ASCO International Affairs Committee
Professor and Director, Breast Center of Excellence, Naef K. Basile Cancer Institute, American University of Beirut Medical Center

In 1964, when a pioneering group of seven physicians got together and established the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), I was in elementary school in Beirut, Lebanon. Twenty years later, I had: completed my schooling in Beirut; learned French in Lyon, France; studied medicine in Brussels, Belgium; completed training in internal medicine and hematology oncology in New York; and became eligible to join ASCO. In 2002, I joined the newly established ASCO International Affairs Committee, and I witnessed the great collegiality and enthusiasm that ASCO members and ASCO staff have in order to improve knowledge exchange, better disseminate research results, help improve access to better care for patients worldwide, and help reduce disparities in patient outcomes. ASCO members and ASCO staff have many reasons to celebrate during ASCO’s 50th anniversary while, of course, getting ready for more hard work to come.

My journey is probably similar in many ways to that of thousands of current ASCO international members who value ASCO as a place to exchange knowledge, help advance clinical research, encourage basic research and its clinical translation, and improve patient care worldwide. This feeling is also cherished by thousands of ASCO members who work and reside in the United States as well. ASCO’s 50th anniversary is time for celebration for all of us.

Celebrating Scientific and ASCO-Based Accomplishments

“I love ASCO,” “I never miss the ASCO Annual Meeting,” “ASCO’s Annual Meeting is great,” and “I get my annual updates during the Annual Meeting” are phrases I frequently hear repeated by ASCO members. In 50 years, ASCO has grown from a small group of seven founders to a family of more than 30,000 members.

Basic and clinical cancer research has seen great advances in 50 years. We have come a long way from collection of only limited patient history and clinical examinations (albeit very important) to advanced molecular laboratory testing and imaging. We have moved from extensive surgeries to highly effective but minimally disfiguring surgery. We have transitioned away from broad radiotherapy in favor of very accurate physics-guided stereotactic radiotherapy. We also now have hundreds of new drugs and targeted therapies at our disposal and progressing well towards more effective least toxic personalized medicine. There have been great advances in prevention and early detection, as well as in quality improvement and in understanding of patients’ rights and well-being. 

ASCO has a number of programs and accomplishments that the seven founders would have been proud of including:
  • ASCO’s Annual Meeting
  • Journal of Clinical Oncology and other publications
  • ASCO websites
  • ASCO University®
  • ASCO scientific and international research grants such as the International Development and Education Award and the Long-term International Fellowship 
  • Best of ASCO® international meetings
  • QOPI® international
  • ESMO-ASCO Global Curriculum
  • ASCO’s collaboration with Health Volunteers Overseas
In 50 years, ASCO has become a leader of oncology multidisciplinary science and a leader in promotion of better patient care and prevention of cancer in healthy people worldwide. ASCO has become a great forum for presentation and discussion of research done across the world. Domestic and international members will all be in Chicago for the Annual Meeting to celebrate and get ready for more productive years ahead.

About the Author: Dr. El Saghir, an ASCO member since 1984, is the chair of the ASCO International Affairs Committee. He also serves as professor and director of the Breast Center of Excellence at the Naef K. Basile Cancer Institute, a part of the American University of Beirut Medical Center in Beirut, Lebanon. He will Chair the Education Session, “Tumor Boards: Optimizing the Structure and Improving Efficiency of Multidisciplinary Treatment of Patients with Cancer Worldwide,” to be held Monday, 9:45 AM-11:00 AM, S504.


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