While cancer is a major public health problem in the United States, global statistics indicate that most cancers occur outside the United States, especially in countries of limited resources, and that the burden of cancer mortality is greatest in the developing world. You, our international members, now representing more than 30% of all ASCO members, face this global problem every day, often with limited resources and under challenging working conditions.
Recognizing these challenges, and understanding that the strengths of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) can make a major difference, the ASCO Board of Directors has identified two strategic priorities: Improving the Society’s service to non-U.S. members and defining our identity in the international oncology community. The Global Oncology Leadership Task Force was created in June 2014 to help carry out these strategic initiatives. The Task Force is composed of 12 international members—selected by then President–Elect, Peter Yu—who are all seasoned ASCO volunteers and have served on one or more ASCO committees with relevance to our international activities. The Committee was charged with considering global oncology issues related to quality and value of healthcare delivery; access to care, with special emphasis to sub-populations; education of patients with cancer about lifestyle risk factors; training of work force; and new research models outside the industrialized world. The Task Force met multiple times via conference calls and deliberated on these and several other topics.
After identifying major challenges shared by most international members, the Task Force reached consensus on a series of recommendations, including a plan for a Global Oncology Symposium. The Task Force then submitted these recommendations to the Board of Directors for consideration. While the overall report is still under discussion, several of the early recommendations have been approved and are in the process of being implemented. Thus, the first Global Oncology Symposium was held during the 2015 Annual Meeting, drawing a large audience and leading to extensive and constructive discussions. This success led to the additional recommendation of incorporating an annual Global Oncology Symposium into the Annual Meeting, under the joint stewardship of ASCO’s International Affairs Committee and the Cancer Education Committee. For the 2016 meeting, the focus of the Global Oncology Symposium will be HPV-related malignancies; an exciting group of presentations is sure to attract an even larger audience.
Also, at the Task Force’s recommendation, a Global Oncology Summit was held in January 2016, bringing together ASCO, academic centers, and representatives from government and the private sector who are involved in global oncology activities. The entire day was dedicated to learning what each of these stakeholders was doing internationally, which successes and challenges they have experienced, and what opportunities existed for ASCO to apply its skills and strengths to improving the quantity and quality of cancer care around the world. Furthermore, the Summit identified potential partnerships to leverage ASCO’s particular strengths, especially education and training.
Simultaneous activities undertaken by the Society at the recommendation of the Task Force include:
- The development of management guidelines that include resource stratification;
- A focus on professional development for clinicians, including oncology professionals, general practitioners, and mid-level providers. Emphasis was placed on leadership development and continuation of successful ASCO programs such as the International Development and Education Award (IDEA) and the Leadership Development Program (LDP).
- Continued emphasis on quality improvement through education and the development of tools to drive such improvement: the Quality Oncology Practice Initiative and the International Cancer Corps Program.
- Following the example of the successful collaboration between ASCO and the College of American Pathologists for quality improvement in the determination of hormone receptor and HER2 status, a joint effort is ongoing as a demonstration project to improve and harmonize the training of pathologists in four limited-resource countries.
In addition to all of these ongoing activities, the Task Force made additional recommendations with regard to supporting global oncology as an academic, research-oriented field; fostering opportunities to promote quality standards and improvements in cancer care delivery globally; and supporting research that is relevant to varying practice settings. ASCO’s Board of Directors is now considering these recommendations carefully, and we look forward to providing an updated report to you in a future Global Express newsletter.
Many other ideas were considered and discussed by the Global Oncology Leadership Task Force, but the final recommendations focused on those aspects that leveraged ASCO’s strengths and were commensurate to the resources our Society is able to dedicate to these activities. While the Task Force completed its work this past March, the Board of Directors’ interest in global oncology will persist, and as these recommendations are enacted they will cement ASCO’s international role and its increasing service to its international members.
Gabriel N. Hortobagyi, MD, FACP, FASCO, is Chair of the Global Oncology Leadership Task Force and Chair of the Conquer Cancer Foundation Audit Committee. He served as President of ASCO from 2006-2007. He is a member of the Chemotherapy for Women with Advanced HER2- Breast Cancer committee and the Conquer Cancer Foundation Board of Directors. He has been an ASCO member since 1976.