Why is the American Cancer Society’s congress relevant for Europe?

Last weekend the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) took place in Chicago, Illinois. An estimated 40,000 attendees roamed around the congress centre attending scientific sessions, looking at presentations and posters and meeting experts in one of the many on-site cafés. But while the congress could be dubbed as the ‘American’ congress, it is estimated that about half of the attendees were actually internationals, neither living nor working in the USA. And I can attest to large numbers of Europeans there, attending, speaking, presenting, and exchanging knowledge on ways to get us a step closer to curing cancer. Undoubtedly, the American Cancer Society’s congress is interesting for Europeans. Why is that so?

The obvious answer is that science has no borders. The not-so-obvious answer is that scientific research into cancer treatment has moved into more difficult-to-treat disease, the kind of which requires stronger international collaboration if we are to ever find the missing pieces of the puzzle. Look for example into metastatic breast cancer. With no current cure and no definitive prognostic statistics, living with metastatic breast cancer each year isn’t about beating cancer; it’s about finding the right course of treatment that will help patients live to see another day, month or year. The European Parliament acknowledged the particular challenges metastatic breast cancer poses in their recent declaration on the fight against breast cancer in the European Union. The imperative becomes even clearer when faced with the account of a woman living with metastatic breast cancer, like Lori. Researchers are looking into extending and improving the lives of these patients, and are venturing into unchartered scientific areas where the understanding of the disease is low. Working across borders to help these patients overcome the challenge of living with metastatic breast cancer is a must.

Another answer is the ever-stronger collaboration between the European and American cancer societies. This year’s ASCO programme included joint sessions with the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO), with the European Cancer Organisation (ECCO) and others. This is due to a realization on both sides of the pond that some issues are of shared importance and exchanging knowledge is the best way to go. I attended some of these sessions and it was interesting to see that the similarities in thinking outweigh the differences. The ASCO-ECCO joint session on value-based care was a case in point. Prof Friden, from Sweden, explained how her hospital shifted its measurements from things that matter to the hospital management (e.g. admissions, costs etc.) to things that matter for patients (e.g. how quickly they can return to their normal life) led to more involved patients, more committed physicians and improvement in outcomes.

But my key take-away from this year’s ASCO meeting is that cancer research is fueled by hope. As Dr Richard Gaynor, Senior VP, product development and medical affairs for Lilly Oncology put it: “Cancer research is fuelled by hope. You can’t be a pessimist and be in this field.” This outlook is shared by all of us at Lilly Oncology. Our goal is to give “real hope” to people with cancer through cutting-edge research.