ASCO Leaders Discuss What’s Next for the Society and for Oncology

Dec 19, 2013

While the 50th anniversary provides a great backdrop to reflect on the many member-led accomplishments of the organization, ASCO has never been one to rest on its laurels. Under the direction of its member volunteers, the Society is always looking ahead with the goal of continually improving care and outcomes for patients. 

“The critical goal for ASCO moving forward is thinking carefully about where we need to be to best serve patients and members in the coming decade,” said ASCO President Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP. “It means that as an organization, we have to be flexible, open minded, and thoughtful because simply doing what we have done very successfully for the last 50 years is not the answer. It’s about imagining what members may need and soliciting input from many stakeholders.”  

To help accomplish this, the ASCO Board has created a vision document, “Help ASCO Shape the Future of Oncology: Envisioning Cancer Care in 2013,” to carry the practice of oncology into the next decades, including the transformation of cancer care through health information technology, the realization of precision medicine, and the use of quality measurement and improvement to increase the value of care. For more information on ASCO’s vision and to add your comments on the ideas presented, visit

CancerLinQand the three transformations in cancer care

 Oncology is currently undergoing three transformations that leadership believes will shape our Society and the field moving forward:

  • Genomics, which will help oncologists understand the root causes of cancer;
  • The reorganization of medicine and health care delivery, prompted by the Affordable Care Act; and
  • Health information technology, which transforms medicine from a pen-and-paper profession to an electronic one.

“We’re going to be grappling with the ever-evolving impact of health care reform, as well as health care changes due to resource constraints and increased needs,” Dr. Hudis said. “We’re going to have to be the leaders in figuring out what is right, what’s needed, and what is less important as we have to make choices in the future to make sure everyone receives quality care.”

To deal with these increasing challenges, ASCO plans on utilizing patient case records through CancerLinQ™, a learning computer network that will unlock and analyze cancer care data from millions of patient visits to generate personalized guidance and quality feedback for physicians (see page 33). “For the first time in history, we have an opportunity to tap into the aggregated case records of tens to hundreds of thousands of patients in order to improve the quality of care and learn what is working and what is not working,” said ASCO CEO Allen S. Lichter, MD, FASCO.

Although the ultimate impact of CancerLinQ remains speculative, Dr. Hudis expects it to provide a complementary source of information to prospective randomized clinical trials. “Because only 3% of adults with advanced cancers enroll on clinical trials, there’s a tremendous potential learning opportunity through exploration of the care and outcomes of the 97% not currently studied,” Dr. Hudis said. “Then, using CancerLinQ, we hope to distribute the large and growing body of information related to the treatment of cancers that are increasingly subtyped for targeted therapies using evolving ‘-omics’. I also think it will also provide the opportunity to explore comparative effectiveness and cost effectiveness— outcomes that are going to be increasingly important.”

Drs. Hudis and Lichter stress that CancerLinQ will never replace clinical trials, but it may allow oncologists to make observations that will help inform which clinical trials are most important to do, thus increasing their efficiency. Furthermore, “certain observations we make may be so impactful that we will simply change practice based on our observations without the need for formal clinical research,” Dr. Lichter said.

The future of ASCO membership

Currently 30% of ASCO’s membership is international, and Drs. Hudis and Lichter believe that number will continue to expand. “One of the unique aspects of our history is when ASCO was founded, there was no specific category for international members; there were just members,” Dr. Lichter said. “That made ASCO, and continues to make ASCO, almost unique among American-based specialty societies for its early embrace of the international nature of our work and the formal acceptance of international members as full members of the Society without a specific designation as to where they live.”

Our Society has continued to expand its reach by adding new membership categories over the years. “A key issue for the Society is to identify who we need under the ASCO umbrella so that we can best fulfill our mission. A related question is who could we benefit that we may not be reaching now?” Dr. Hudis said. “The answer may include a broader range of health care professionals, but it may also include patients, survivors, and families. We need to think carefully about how we create and support such broad constituencies so that we can have the societal support required for successful research, education, and care.” 

Taking on obesity

One of ASCO’s major initiatives is expanding the public’s knowledge of the link between obesity and cancer risk. Obesity is predicted to replace tobacco as the number-one modifiable risk factor for common solid tumors and many other cancers. “We are going to be focusing on education and targeted research,” said Dr. Hudis. “We’re also going to be doing public outreach to help build awareness of the association between obesity and malignancy, and we will be providing our membership with information to help educate patients and families. We’re also going to collaborate with other organizations that are already dedicated to combating obesity.”

Dr. Hudis notes that ASCO recognizes that obesity presents a unique challenge not identical to tobacco control because, after all, while no one has to smoke, everyone has to eat. The hope is that through continued education, the public can begin to make better choices and thus reduce their cancer risk. Through all of these directed efforts, ASCO remains true to its core mission and intensely committed to quality, excellence, and its members’ needs. “The potential for ASCO to favorably influence all of society in the next few decades is quite remarkable,” Dr. Hudis said. “I’m hoping that all of our members will engage with ASCO to share their views on what areas we should focus on over the next few years.”

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