“Unite and Conquer”: ASCO20 Virtual Concludes With Robust Virtual Education Program

Nov 17, 2020

On August 8-10, cancer care professionals from across the globe logged on to the ASCO20 Virtual Education Program to learn about compelling developments in oncology and to share ideas about how to apply research advances into their practices. The program offered 90 sessions, nearly 300 speakers, and the opportunity to network with attendees from around the world.

The Virtual Education Program served as the second half of ASCO20 Virtual, following the Virtual Scientific Program that took place in May. Presentations from both programs can be viewed online through November 30, 2020.

Opening Session Highlights Unity Within the Oncology Community

In the Opening Session, ASCO past president and current chair of the Board Howard A. "Skip" Burris III , MD, FACP, FASCO, celebrated the gains achieved during the ASCO20 Virtual Scientific Program and expressed optimism for building on these successes through the live broadcast and on-demand sessions during the Virtual Education Program. “The Education Program is all about how we incorporate these discoveries into the patient care we deliver,” he said.

Dr. Burris expressed gratitude to the Annual Meeting Education Program Committee, led by chair Tatiana Prowell, MD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Thank you, Dr. Prowell and the entire Education [Program] Committee, for remaining steadfast in your commitment to developing an engaging and impactful Education Program of the highest quality, while also pivoting to address the immediate needs of your own patients during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Sessions on COVID-19 and Cancer Care

Several sessions addressed the impact of COVID-19 on cancer care and on how the oncology community mobilized to understand the pandemic’s effects on patients with cancer and the oncology workforce. The Opening Session included a roundtable discussion on COVID-19 with ASCO CEO Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO, and Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless, MD, director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute. A second roundtable session was offered on COVID-19 registries, including the ASCO Survey on COVID-19 and Oncology Registry.

A session addressing the ethical issues in oncology that were prompted by COVID-19 explored complex and sensitive decisions that clinicians, patients, and the larger health care system are facing, including continuity of cancer care and resource scarcity. The discussion was led by session chair Angela R. Bradbury, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania, and included the following panelists:

  • Clinical Ethics Perspective: Colleen M. Gallagher, PhD, of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Policy Perspective: Jonathan M. Marron, MD, MPH, FAAP, of Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center
  • Legal Perspective: Kayte Spector-Bagdady, JD, MBE, of the University of Michigan
  • Surgical Perspective: Sabha Ganai, MD, MPH, PhD, FACS, of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences
  • Community Perspective: Banu Symington, MD, MACP, of Sweetwater Regional Cancer Center, Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County

Dr. Burris noted that the Program Directors Roundtable: The Impact of COVID-19 on Fellowship Training “challenged us to think differently and provided an opportunity to share lessons learned about the interview and match process during a time when face-to-face meetings and travel are no longer possible.”

ASCO Voices

The 2020 ASCO Voices Session, a popular series of humanistic talks, covered a range of experiences: loss in medicine, partnership with patients, mental health for physicians, the importance of a growth mindset in science and medicine, and the unique challenges of being a black woman in medicine.

The session featured five empowering personal narratives and perspectives from the field:

  • “Ode to Rachel” by Aparna Raj Parikh, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital
  • “Stay Strong, Rwanda! Cancer Can Be Cured!” by Jose A. Bufill, MD, FACP, of Michiana Hematology Oncology, and Alice Cyusa, MSE, of Komera Rwanda! Cancer Care Foundation
  • “How Are You?” by Julia Lee Close, MD, of the University of Florida
  • “Life Lessons From Worm Boy” by Kurt R. Oettel, MD, MBA, FACP, of Gundersen Lutheran Hospital/Clinic
  • “Two Percent Times Two” by Onyemaechi Okolo, MD, of the University of Arizona Medical Center

The talks are summarized in a simultaneous publication in the Journal of Clinical Oncology’s Art of Oncology section

ASCO Book Club: In Shock

This year’s ASCO Book Club featured author Rana Awdish, MD, of Henry Ford Health System. In her bestselling memoir, In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope, Dr. Awdish shares her deeply personal and traumatic experience with critical illness, and the hard lessons she learned about how doctors can provide truly passionate care.

“I personally read [In Shock] in a single day and found it to be both impactful and powerful,” Dr. Burris said.

Honoring Military Service Members

Having spent the first part of his career in the military, Dr. Burris was especially proud to offer a session on “Cultural Competency in Cancer Care for Military Service Members” as part of the ASCO20 Virtual Education Program.

“I know firsthand that our nation’s veteran heroes face distinct and complex health care needs,” Dr. Burris said. “As physicians, if we can develop a better understanding of the unique military experience, we will be more able to deliver truly personalized care to our veterans.”

Talks in the session include:

  • “The Things They Carry Into Clinic: How Military Service Impacts a Soldier/Veteran’s Perspective on Their Cancer Treatment” by session chair Sarah Violet Colonna, MD, of Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah
  • “Integrating Personalized, Precision Care Within the VA” by Michael J. Kelley, MD, of Duke University Medical Center
  • “Transformational Listening: Cultural Competencies in Providing Service to Veterans, Service Members, and Their Families” by patient advocate Tanja Thompson
  • “Of Foxholes and FOLFOX: The Case for Cancer Care in Military Hospitals” by Peter Learn, MD, of Uniformed Services University

Focus on Disparities/Health Equity

The Disparities/Health Equity Track at the ASCO20 Virtual Education Program featured 10 sessions that approached the issue of health equity from a variety of angles, including several sessions on global health.

In addition to the session on cultural competency in cancer care for military service members, the Disparities/Health Equity Track includes:

  • “The Use of Health-Related Technology to Reduce the Gap Between Developed and Undeveloped Regions Around the Globe” chaired by Wilfred Ngwa, PhD, MS, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, University of Massachusetts at Lowell
  • “Optimizing Treatment for Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma” chaired by Brigette Ma, MD, of Prince of Wales Hospital and The Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • “Successful Strategies to Address Disparities: Provider, Insurer, and Employer Perspectives” chaired by Manali I. Patel, MD, of Stanford University School of Medicine
  • “The Globalization of Geriatric Oncology: From Data to Practice” chaired by Ravindran Kanesvaran, MD, of National Cancer Centre Singapore
  • “The Time Is Now: Delivering Culturally Sensitive Individualized Oncology Care for LGBTQ Patients With Cancer” chaired by Charles Stewart Kamen, PhD, MPH, of the University of Rochester Medical Center
  • “Global Cancer Prevention in Low-Resource Populations” chaired by Sailaja Kamaraju, MD, MS, of Froedtert Health and Medical College of Wisconsin
  • “Making the Best Use of Resources in Global Cancer Care” chaired by Richard Sullivan, PhD, MBBS, FFPM, of King’s Health Partners Comprehensive Cancer Centre
  • “Stratified Guideline-Based Cancer Care Should Be a Priority: Examples of Success” chaired by Julie Gralow, MD, FACP, FASCO, of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
  • “The Changing Health Care Landscape: On the Right Track or Off the Rails?” chaired by K. Robin Yabroff, PhD, of the American Cancer Society

Collaborative Joint Sessions

Special joint sessions highlighted collaborative efforts to advance cancer treatment, including the “ASCO/European CanCer Organisation (ECCO) Joint Session: Toward Curing Sarcomas—Specialized Surgery, Disease Diversity, and Emerging Fields of Treatment,” which introduced attendees to some of the more promising novel systemic therapies that are emerging for patients with sarcomas.

Of the “ASCO/American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Joint Session: Targeting RAS-Driven Cancers,” Dr. Burris said, “Targeting RAS and specifically KRAS has been a holy grail of oncology drug development. The recent development of KRAS inhibitors has laid the groundwork for opening the crack to target this important cancer.”

“Unite and Conquer: Accelerating Progress Together”

Dr. Burris, who selected “Unite and Conquer: Accelerating Progress Together” as this year’s Annual Meeting theme, said he is heartened by the overwhelming sense of community that has deepened within the oncology field over the past several months.

“A global pandemic has shown me that we truly are united in our collective commitment to conquering cancer and adversity has only brought us closer together,” he said. “Again, I want to say thank you to the volunteers, speakers, faculty, and staff for putting together a stellar Education Program that [will] undoubtedly aid in our quest to accelerate progress against cancer for patients all over the globe.”


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