Aug 25, 2014
An interview with Yi-Long Wu, MD, FACS, President of the Chinese Society of Clinical Oncology
ASCO is an international organization with members in 31 countries outside the United States. Focusing on the importance of global cancer care, ASCO is committed to empowering oncologists throughout the world to provide quality care to their patients. China is one of the most populated countries in the world and one predicted to bear a significant cancer burden in the coming years. For an up-to-date look at cancer care in China, ASCO Connection spoke with Yi-Long Wu, MD, FACS, the Vice-President of the Guangdong General Hospital and Director of the Guangdong Lung Cancer Institute. Dr. Wu is also a past member of ASCO’s International Affairs Committee and International Development and Education Award (IDEA) Working Group, and is currently the President of the Chinese Society of Clinical Oncology (CSCO).
AC: How would you describe the current state of cancer care in China?
Dr. Wu: Cancer is a very serious social and medical problem in China. There are 2.82 million new cancer cases and 1.96 million deaths from cancer each year. The cancer mortality-to-incidence ratio for China is 0.62 compared to 0.59 in Latin America, 0.43 for the European Union, and 0.35 in the United States.1 Tobacco, air and water pollution, and food contamination are increasingly associated with a serious rise in cancer cases. It is estimated that incidences of lung cancer will increase quickly in the next 20 years.
There is a huge disparity of access to cancer care due to China’s size and varying socioeconomic statuses. The main pitfalls to quality care include the lack of affordable anticancer drugs and treatments, insufficient infrastructure, and a shortage of health care professionals for cancer care.
An example of one of these pitfalls is the cost of molecular targeted drugs, such as gefitinib and erlotinib for lung cancer with epidermal growth factor receptor [EGFR] mutation. These drugs are very effective, but are also expensive. Only a few cities cover these drugs with their government reimbursement system, leaving more than 95% of patients with lung cancer to pay for the drugs themselves. In this situation, 14.2% of patients with EGFR mutant lung cancer never receive targeted treatment.
AC: What led you to pursue oncology as a career?
Dr. Wu: I graduated from Sun Yat-sen University of Medical Sciences in 1982. At that time in China, medical graduates did not get to freely choose their profession. I was assigned to a cancer hospital and pursued my career in oncology. From 1988 to 1989, I was trained in thoracic surgery in West Germany. Through retrospective analysis of my lung cancer surgery cases, I found surgery alone could not cure cancer in most circumstances. Beginning in 1994, I became interested in lung cancer multidisciplinary management and became a lung cancer oncologist.
AC: How can ASCO support CSCO and cancer care in your region?
Dr. Wu: ASCO has played, and will continue to play, a very important role in guiding oncology innovation, sharing oncology knowledge, eliminating disparities in cancer treatment, producing quality Continuing Medical Education (CME) resources, and enhancing friendships among oncologists from different countries. I attended the ASCO Annual Meeting for the first time in 1997, and it quickly became an annual event on my calendar (with the exception of 2003, the year SARS broke out in China).
There were two milestone events on the education program between ASCO and CSCO. One was the Multidisciplinary Cancer Management Course (MCMC) that was held in Xi’an, China, in 2005. As an ASCO course, it trained Chinese oncologists who have become key leaders in the field of oncology in China. Dr. Charles Balch, who was the leader of the Chinese MCMC and former CEO of ASCO, also became a good friend of many Chinese oncologists because of that course.
Another event is the Best of ASCO® (BOA) meeting. The BOA meeting was introduced in 2011, and it has become one of the most welcome CME resources in China. Annually, there were 800 attendees at the meeting for the past three years. This year, more than 1,400 participants will join the BOA meeting.
AC: What has it been like serving on ASCO’s International Affairs Committee and IDEA Working Group, as well as President of CSCO?
Dr. Wu: From 2011 to 2014, I served on ASCO’s International Affairs Committee and the IDEA Working Group. The International Affairs Committee extended the Society’s international insight and influence into developing countries around the world. Through the IDEA program, more than 250 early-career oncologists from low- and middle-income countries have been selected since 2002 to attend the ASCO Annual Meeting and also spend time at a mentor’s institution. From reviewing application materials and interviewing the applicants, I really feel that the IDEA project is so important for the career of applicants. It may be the only training opportunity for applicants from underdeveloped countries to gain experience in moredeveloped countries. In China, since 2006, there are usually one to two IDEA winners each year. Some of them have grown to be oncology leaders at their institutes.
As the President of CSCO and based on my experience on ASCO’s International Affairs Committee, I will speed up the international vision of CSCO. At the 2014 CSCO Annual Meeting, we had a CSCO-ASCO, CSCO-European Society for Medical Oncology, CSCOJapanese Society of Medical Oncology, and CSCO-International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer symposium. I hope CSCO will provide an international academic communication platform in China and the rest of Asia. I sincerely welcome all friends to come to the CSCO Annual Meeting.
AC: What is your hope for global cancer care?
Dr. Wu: As an oncologist in a developing country, I think that international cooperation is very important. We have a common dream. We could learn from other’s strong points to offset our weakness. We need to integrate cancer care in different cultures, ethnicities, and geographies into our global dream to cure cancer.
1. Goss PE, Strasser-Weippl K, Lee-Bychkovsky BL, et al. Lancet Oncol. 2014;15:489-538.