Jul 07, 2023
By Jo Cavallo
Lynn M. Schuchter, MD, FASCO, has said that volunteering and working with ASCO over many years has been the highlight of her career. She served on the ASCO Board of Directors from 2009 to 2012 and on several ASCO committees, including terms as chair of the Annual Meeting Scientific Program Committee, Cancer Research Committee, and Cancer Communications Committee, and as an editor on the Journal of Clinical Oncology Editorial Board. During the 2023 ASCO Annual Meeting in Chicago, Dr. Schuchter took on a new role with ASCO as its 60th president.
Dr. Schuchter is the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine’s Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Professor of Hematology-Oncology and has served as chief of the Division of Hematology-Oncology for 15 years. She is director of the Tara Miller Melanoma Center at the Abramson Cancer Center.
A clinical investigator specializing in melanoma, with a particular interest in the development of novel therapies for advanced disease, Dr. Schuchter also has a strong commitment to mentorship and sponsorship. In particular, she is devoted to supporting women to enhance their professional development as clinicians, educators, researchers, and leaders in oncology. In 2019, Dr. Schuchter was recognized for her long-standing dedication to mentorship with the Hologic, Inc. Endowed Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Award from Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation.
In keeping with her commitment to ensure that all patients with cancer have access to the highest quality cancer care from diagnosis through the end of life, Dr. Schuchter has chosen “The Art and Science of Cancer Care: From Comfort to Cure” as her presidential theme.
Dr. Schuchter discussed the importance of delivering serious illness conversations as a key component of high-quality oncology care, addressing the needs of community and academic oncologists, and advancing cancer care globally.
Why did you choose “The Art and Science of Cancer Care: From Comfort to Cure” as your presidential theme?
LS: I was trying to capture both the unprecedented progress we have made in cancer treatment, which is leading to better outcomes, and often cures, for some patients, and the recognition that these advances are not benefitting all patients, either because the therapy is not effective, or the cancer becomes resistant to the therapy. As oncologists, we face this dynamic every day.
I care for patients with melanoma, a cancer that was very difficult to treat in the advanced stage only a few years ago. Today, we have many more options for patients with metastatic melanoma that can extend survival and even cure some patients. But when treatments fail, it is so important that we have the difficult conversations with patients about their prognosis and that we understand their values and wishes. Clarity about our patients’ goals better informs treatment and care planning and transitions to palliative or hospice care, especially near the end of life.
Being able to have difficult conversations about prognosis in an effective, empathic, and honest way is a key element in the art of cancer care. A big focus of my presidential term will be on how to help and support clinicians as they engage patients and their families in these difficult conversations; this was the subject of several educational sessions at this year’s Annual Meeting.
How has your career in oncology and as an ASCO member prepared you for your new role as ASCO president?
LS: My deep involvement with ASCO for my entire career has allowed me to see the impact ASCO has on the everyday lives of oncologists and other cancer professionals in terms of advocating for the highest quality, equitable care for all patients with cancer, including ensuring sufficient federal funding for research, greater health care access, and payment reform. Understanding ASCO and its mission is key to being an effective leader.
I have had extensive leadership roles at the University of Pennsylvania as both a researcher and clinician. These leadership roles have allowed me to have a deep understanding of the complexity of cancer care delivery and clinical care operations, clinical research, and related regulations, which will greatly inform the work we do at ASCO. I remain an active clinician and love taking care of patients every day. It has been breathtaking and exciting to apply cancer research advances to novel clinical trials and then use these new treatments for my patients every day. Those are the skills and insights I bring to my new role as ASCO president.
What are the goals you hope to accomplish during your tenure as ASCO president?
LS: Although my presidential theme does not have the words “palliative or supportive care” in it, integrating palliative cancer care into usual oncology care as part of the standard of care throughout the continuum of illness is a top goal of mine. In fact, it’s been 25 years since palliative care was first incorporated into an ASCO presidential theme. Dr. Robert J. Mayer focused on issues related to end-of-life care as part of his presidential term in 1997 to 1998. From there, ASCO’s work in palliative care and end-of-life care grew exponentially, and I plan to pull every lever in ASCO’s arsenal to continue to advance this important work.
For example, I will be working with Dr. Thomas LeBlanc, of Duke University School of Medicine and Duke Cancer Institute, who is chair of the ASCO Annual Meeting Education Program Committee. Under his leadership as an expert in palliative care and quality of life, we are developing educational sessions at the 2024 ASCO Annual Meeting that will include presentations by experts in symptom management, palliative care, and how to have effective serious illness conversations with patients about goals of care.
Like all presidential themes, mine rests on the fundamental principle that every patient should receive high-quality care. One important way to ensure this is through advocacy to provide an environment that is supportive of the research and care delivery that gives each patient with cancer the best chance for a successful outcome.
We have made great progress in cancer, but we also see major roadblocks to success, including health disparities, insurance issues, administrative burden, and lack of resources. I will be working very closely with ASCO’s policy and advocacy efforts with Congress and the Biden Administration to address how we can minimize the financial burden on patients in terms of high insurance copays and the administrative burden on physicians and nurses, such as prior authorization.
I look forward to partnering with Dr. Monica M. Bertagnolli, director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), on the NCI’s National Cancer Plan, as well as other agencies to advance cancer research and cancer care.
I will also be working with ASCO’s State/Regional Affiliate Program, which includes 47 state or regional oncology groups nationwide, to address the needs of community oncologists, share best practices from ASCO, and learn best practices from our members. I plan to attend several State Affiliate Council and leadership conferences over the next year and hear directly from practicing oncologists about their biggest concerns.
I also want to mention the essential partnership between oncology physicians and our nurses and advance practice practitioners to deliver the best care for our patients. During my leadership, I plan on inviting more nurse leaders into ASCO membership and have appointed several nurses to serve on various ASCO committees.
What do you perceive will be some of your greatest challenges as ASCO president?
LS: We are facing several major challenges, but one is the issue of the oncology workforce and clinician well-being, which has been a focus of Dr. Eric P. Winer’s presidential term. We are all still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and the strain it has put on our workforce. Issues such as increased clinical demand, having less time to spend with patients, greater administrative burnout, inefficiencies related to electronic health records, and staff shortages have had a major impact on the oncology workforce. We need a healthy oncology workforce to make progress for our patients and to continue the progress we have made in cancer research.
Approximately one-third of ASCO members practice outside the United States, and one-quarter practice in low- and middle-income countries. How do you plan to expand ASCO’s outreach to other countries?
LS: ASCO’s overall approach to improving cancer care is by working with our members to provide education, professional development, practice guidelines, and other resources. Just as this is true in the United States, it is also ASCO’s approach internationally, where we collaborate with our dedicated members and organizations around the world to make a difference. This is not by accident.
In 2014, the ASCO Board of Directors created a Global Oncology Leadership Task Force to identify how ASCO could continue to build its international efforts. In 2016, the task force developed the Society’s global strategy, which is built upon three pillars: innovative global oncology research, quality improvement, and professional development. It is a strong foundation. For many years, ASCO has collaborated with oncology societies around the world to jointly organize symposia and short courses on oncology topics. We are now building on this network of collaborations to extend our impact.
In 2019, ASCO launched Breakthrough: A Global Summit, held in Bangkok, Thailand, which focused on the intersection of medicine, scientific discovery, and innovations in technology. This year, ASCO Breakthrough will be held in Yokohama, Japan, and virtually, from August 3 to 5, and will again feature innovations and research in cancer care. It will be held in partnership with the Japan Society of Clinical Oncology, the Japanese Society of Medical Oncology, and many more national societies across Asia.
The ASCO Breakthrough meeting reflects a broader ASCO strategy to engage with our members on a regional basis. Our Regional Councils are key to this approach, and I look forward to working with colleagues on the Regional Councils for Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Asia-Pacific region. Their guidance and direction will be critical as we work to adapt ASCO programs, products, and services to better meet the needs of our members in those regions. And we are making progress. For example, the Asia-Pacific Regional Council adapted and implemented a region-specific leadership program modeled on ASCO’s main Leadership Development Program. In addition, the Latin American Regional Council recently announced a dedicated research grant in metastatic breast cancer in collaboration with Pfizer and Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation.
Our members will always be at the forefront of our international work, but organizational partnerships are important as well.
In August 2022, ASCO and the African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC) signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate to advance cancer research in Africa. As part of the memorandum, ASCO is looking to support AORTIC’s vision of training the next generation of African cancer investigators. ASCO also joined the Union for International Cancer Control’s Access to Oncology Medicines (ATOM) Coalition to improve access to essential drugs for cancer treatment in low- and middle-income countries.
I am honored to serve as ASCO’s next president and excited to support ASCO’s efforts across all its missions.
Originally published in The ASCO Post; adapted and reprinted with permission.