As the first Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium kicks off, it is striking to think how this meeting has taken shape and how it intersects with ASCO during its 50th year of existence. Like me, ASCO was born in 1964. Interestingly, that same year, Dame Cicely Saunders (the founder of the modern hospice movement) first introduced the concept of “total pain” drawing attention to care of the whole person. The first ASCO meeting was in April of 1965, with 70 people present. We have nearly 10 fold that many here in Boston for this inaugural symposium of palliative care in oncology. This remarkable attendance and excitement for this meeting speaks an untapped need among a wide variety of clinicians, basic and clinical researchers, and health policy experts for a forum for scientific and educational exchange enriched for content at this particular crossroads.
This meeting content sits at the confluence of several major disciplines, represented by the cosponsors AAHPM, ASCO, ASTRO, and MASCC (Fig. 1), and its content is sometimes hard to follow comprehensively as key content is presented and published in a variety of places.
Yet the importance of this space to optimal care in oncology is increasingly recognized. A chronology of key events on the path towards this inaugural meeting is summarized in this table, looking at events in terms of ASCO’s chronologic age (Table 1).
The pivotal steps on this road date back five years. ASCO leadership had a vision in 2009 that concurrent palliative care and oncology care would become “usual” care by 2020. Thus, ASCO made plans to carve out a symposium that would put PallOnc at center stage. And earlier this year, upon receiving award recognition for contributions to palliative care from the AAHPM, the statement was clear: “ASCO recognizes that optimal oncology care requires the integration of palliative care practices and principles across the trajectory of cancer care.” And so the meeting has launched here in Boston. There may be rain outside, but there is great warmth from the human energy around symptom science, early integration of palliative care, survivorship, end-of-life care, and psycho-oncology. As we strive for optimal care for our patients throughout the trajectory of illness, we are actively exploring where PallOnc fits as part of the puzzle (Fig. 2).