ASCO President Stresses the Importance of Innovation for Advancing Equitable Cancer Care

The theme for the 2022 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting selected by 2021-2022 ASCO President Everett E. Vokes, MD, John E. Ultmann Professor of Medicine, and Chair, Department of Medicine, University of Chicago Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine, Hyde Park, was advancing equitable cancer care through innovation.

“In oncology, innovation can be seen around every corner. Opportunities range from new therapies and smarter use of existing treatments, and offering patients broader and easier access through telemedicine, to rethinking clinical trial eligibility and much more. As a global community of innovators, people working in oncology have unmatched potential to improve care for all patients, everywhere in the world,” he said. The theme was reflected in many of the 2900 oral and poster presentations and during Dr Vokes’ Presidential Address at the Opening Session.

Deep-seated disparities in care remain between regions, economies, and populations. “Catastrophic events, like war, epidemics, and national disasters, can compound these global disparities in cancer care,” he said. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing inequities in cancer care. “COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the poor, people of color, low- and middle-income regions, and people with serious underlying health conditions such as cancer,” Dr Vokes noted. “In the US, black people with cancer were twice as likely to be infected with COVID-19 as white people with cancer, and Hispanic people were 5 times as likely to get COVID-19.”

The pandemic, however, sparked innovation, such as telemedicine and other novel ways to deliver care. One recent example of this was the launch of a data visualization tool by ASCO that allows users to explore geographic distribution of systemic and socioeconomic factors that influence cancer care delivery in the United States. In the ASCO Interactive Map of Oncology, users can view US population-based oncology-related data by state and county overlaid with COVID-19–specific data, including state-level data from the ASCO Survey on COVID-19 in Oncology Registry. “Let’s keep this innovation momentum going,” he said.

Dr Vokes also stressed the importance of wider availability to innovative treatments such as immunotherapy and diagnostics such as liquid biopsy to advance equity in cancer care. Liquid biopsy, he said, will increasingly enhance and possibly may replace more invasive diagnostic methods.

“In addition to testing and treatment, we are also developing novel tools to better communicate with our patients,” said Dr Vokes, citing the example of recent improvements in remote symptom monitoring. Flagging symptoms early via electronic reporting of patient outcomes has been found to improve overall survival.

Additional data have shown that digital communication improves patients’ quality of life and physical functioning. ASCO has a pilot project in Montana, one of the most rural states in the country, that uses telehealth and team building to expand access to care, he noted.

ASCO also continues to advocate for more diversity in clinical trials. A bill pending in the US Congress would allow companies to reimburse participants for transportation, childcare, and other expenses associated with participating in a clinical trial. “Recognizing cost as a barrier and being proactive in removing that barrier is important, and I’m proud that ASCO is advocating for this legislation,” he said. “This is our time to gather, and exchange novel ideas that can bring down barriers to access and make cancer care more equitable, convenient, and efficient for patients worldwide.”

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