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Hot Topics from the 2021 American Society of Clinical Oncology Conference

ASCO 2021 Highlights
Lillie D. Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, HON-ONN-CG
University Distinguished Service Professor of Breast Cancer,
Professor of Surgery, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Co-Developer of Work Stride—Managing Cancer at Work
Johns Hopkins Healthcare Solutions

Welcome to the second issue of this very special issue of CONQUER: the patient voice. Many of you may not know that every year, the largest oncology organization, the American Society of Clinical Oncology—usually referred to as ASCO—holds a conference to discuss the most recent findings in cancer research.

During this 4- to 5-day medical conference, more than 30,000 oncology specialists get together to learn about the most recent breaking news and cutting-edge research that has been accomplished during the past year, which will likely result in new treatments and new discoveries that will directly influence treatment decision-making for many patients with cancer.

The conference includes primarily medical oncologists in attendance; however, there are also radiation oncologists, surgeons specializing in cancer surgery, laboratory researchers, and clinical researchers that are focused on developing new cancer treatments, as well as finding ways to prevent cancer from happening in the first place.

It is very likely that members of your own treatment team often go to this important meeting to learn first-hand new developments in cancer care.

Patients with cancer usually don’t have the opportunity to learn directly what was discussed at this conference to learn how the information presented may affect their own care until their oncologist mentions some of the lessons learned that may be relevant to a specific patient. In most cases, doctors may not discuss this information with their patients at all, particularly if there is not a new standard of care that is being implemented as a result of the recent research presented at the annual ASCO conference.

Every single type of cancer, including unique and rare forms within a more general type of cancer, is discussed in some form at that conference, and many of these are presented in this issue. In addition, advocacy organizations usually attend the meeting, as well as all the pharmaceutical companies that have drugs in development or drugs already approved. They present updates related to the research that reflects the outcomes of clinical trials.

It would be unusual for a patient with cancer to have access to the research results learned from clinical trials and other research that is announced at this important annual meeting. However, we believe that you should have access to this information and the clinical trials results that are presented in this setting. Therefore, we have created a special issue of CONQUER magazine, so that you can read about some of the findings that have been presented at ASCO 2021 and are likely to influence changes in the treatment options for some types of cancer.

Obviously, you will be most interested in articles that are focused on the type of cancer you have or had, or that a loved one may have. We hope you find these articles of some help. You may also consider taking this special issue with you to your next doctor’s appointment to discuss a specific article that is related to the type of cancer you have.

A special focus this year, which will continue to be discussed for years to come, is the need for more research about disparities in cancer care. For example, there are many barriers for underserved patients and certain races to engage in clinical trials, for a variety of reasons. Although they may be candidates to participate, they are not always offered that option by their doctor, they may not understand the reasons for participating in a clinical trial, or are fearful of medical research in general. There are also racial disparities in biomarkers testing, which helps to select the best treatment for an individual patient. PSA screening of black men for prostate cancer has been an ongoing problem for decades. Read the articles in this issue about this problem and how we need to address it nationally and globally.

Our goal is to empower you with medical information to help you participate in the decision-making about your cancer care more actively and confidently. And if you have participated in a clinical trial, it is likely that the results of the study are now, or soon will be, demonstrating the clinical outcomes during the next ASCO annual conference. Don’t be surprised if those clinical trial results are in this issue.

I would be remiss if I did not thank you for participating in clinical trials. Without clinical trials, there would be no new treatments for cancer. This is not an exaggeration. People who participated in clinical trials some years ago have enabled the development of the new and improved treatments that you are receiving today. And your participation in clinical trials currently will pay it forward for patients diagnosed in the future with the type of cancer you have.

We hope you find this special issue informative and intriguing, motivating you to learn more about your diagnosis and treatment options. You are holding in your hands right now the future of cancer care.

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