Fifty years ago, a group of seven cancer physicians banded together with a single purpose: to improve the care of people with cancer. At the time, cancer was viewed as a monolithic and frequently incurable disease, with only a handful of hard-to-tolerate and mostly ineffective therapies available. Stigma and silence left many patients with cancer with little support or information.
ASCO’s founders envisioned “a society of clinical oncology [that] has the potential of contributing greatly to the improved diagnosis, treatment, well-being, and longevity of fellow citizens with neoplastic diseases and to aid in the prevention of many others.” Whereas nearly all cancer organizations at the time were focused on laboratory research, ASCO would be dedicated to the clinical needs and concerns of patients.
Hope for Tomorrow’s Patients
ASCO has held true to this vision. Over 5 decades, ASCO and its members have established and advanced the field of modern clinical oncology. In many ways, the story of ASCO is the story of progress against cancer: as ASCO grew from its original seven members to more than 35,000 today, national funding for cancer research increased from less than $200 million to more than $5 billion annually. The number of drugs available to treat cancer grew from just a handful to more than 170. And, most importantly, patients are living longer and better lives. ASCO’s members, together with cancer patients, advocates, and the policymakers, government agencies, and philanthropic organizations like the Conquer Cancer Foundation that have invested in vital research, have enabled and delivered these remarkable advances.
Nevertheless, cancer remains one of the world’s greatest health challenges. Prevention options are few, and many cancers are still hard to diagnose and treat. But with recent breakthroughs in technology and molecular biology, cancer care is poised to change even more dramatically in the next 20 years than over the past 50. As we look to the future, ASCO is working to harness these rapid changes in science and technology to achieve even better outcomes for tomorrow’s patients. ■