The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) was founded on April 9, 1964, at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago in order to create a voice and presence in clinical oncology. Later that year, 51 people attended the first annual meeting. Fifty years later, a record 33,000 attendees have gathered in Chicago for ASCO’s 50th annual meeting. The presidential address, given by Dr. Clifford Hudis, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, was without a doubt inspirational, moving, and humbling. He spoke of setting intentions in order to accomplish our goal to create a “world without the fear of cancer.” In order to do that, he stated, we need to translate scientific progress into societal benefit through “social justice.”
The world of oncology has transformed in the last 50 years. There have been incredible advances, and yet there remain many new challenges and hurdles to be overcome. There are dwindling federal funds for cancer research and, in fact, federal spending on cancer research is about 0.1% of the federal budget. This undoubtedly slows research progress and advances at a time where the incidence of cancer is on the rise. Cancer costs are insurmountable, and yet in order to cut costs, physicians, pharmaceutical, and insurance companies must all work together—an extremely challenging proposition. At this time, access to care is uneven and many disparities exist.
However, great leaders don’t just manage problems—they create solutions. Dr. Hudis stressed that “our intention is social justice.” He proposed the following solutions for achieving social justice in cancer care: creating more private and public resources, addressing disparities in cancer risk and in access to high-quality care, defining “value” in cancer care in an effort to optimally use society’s precious resources, and harnessing the new power of information technology. His focus on obesity and his bold assertion that “obesity is the new tobacco” makes one realize that no matter how far we advance in science, there is always more that needs to be done.
Dr. Hudis quoted President Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 State of the Union Speech, when Johnson described his intention to do whatever was necessary to eliminate poverty and racial injustice: “We can afford to win it,” he said. “And we cannot afford to lose it.” This resonates immensely with the challenges we face in oncology today. We have a responsibility to our patients, and we just cannot lose.
Dr. Hudis went on to say, “It is my intention to see us do everything possible to enable science to allow us to achieve a world free from the fear of cancer.” This must become our collective intention if we are to succeed in translating scientific progress into social justice.
Thank you, Dr. Hudis, for an incredibly powerful Presidential Address, and for reminding the members of ASCO why it is that we do what we do.