What You Need to Know About ASCO


In a matter of days, more than 30,000 oncology professionals, doctors, big and little pharma companies, key industry opinion leaders, corporate watchers and media will descend upon McCormick Place in Chicago for ASCO, with the single purpose of curing cancer. Well, that is an oversimplification, but the intent remains the same — all of these professionals are looking to find new and more effective cures for cancer.

While all of that sounds wonderful (if not really, really lofty), another reason this massive medical conference matters is because of the subsequent changes to legislation, investments and overall bio-pharmaceutical progress.  Here is what you (patients, consumers of healthcare, caregivers) need to know about ASCO:

  1. Drug Pricing: Always a hot topic, this will be the issue on everyone’s lips this year given last year’s declaration by Leonard Saltz (chief of gastrointestinal oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) who used the plenary session of the conference to remind  attendees that cancer drugs are simply too expensive. True? Absolutely. Good topic for this audience? Not so much (the show is funded by pharma companies, aka, the people who set the drug prices).
  2. Immunotherapies: One of the most promising and groundbreaking aspects of oncology are immunotherapies. This is the real future of medicine that works by using a patients’ own immune system to destroy their cancer through molecular immune “breaks” that prevent the body’s immune system from attacking malignant tumors. Given that nothing, much less mitosis gone mad, fits into a one-size-fits-all formula, immunotherapies present a real option for the future of personalized medicine and individualized treatments. The benefits of immunotherapies are many, but perhaps most importantly, these treatments have demonstrated longer duration of benefits and less severe side effects (as compared to the legacy treatments of radiology and chemotherapy).
  3. Recommendations for Treatments: Treatment protocols, key abstracts, posters and presentations shared during this conference are widely reported on by all major media outlets (both consumer facing and trade-based). This year, stay tuned for recommendations on how long breast cancer patients should receive treatment post-surgery, the best types of chemotherapy for different types of cancer, why palliative care matters for more than patients and evidence that supports why stem cell transplants are still important for the treatment of important for multiple myeloma.

The theme for this years’ conference is (appropriately) “Collective Wisdom: The Future of Patient-Centered Care and Research,” a good reminder to all that the real mission here is to help patients move from sickcare to healthcare, something that often feels forgotten in the charged discussions around the business of medicine. Let’s hope the focus this year remains on the patient and not all about the bottom line for pharma.

Will you be attending ASCO beginning this week? What do you think we’ll see this year? Share your thoughts in the comments below.