Reflecting on ASCO 2015

Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s Erin Rowley shares her experience attending this year’s annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, Illinois. Download the audio recording and presentation from our June 4 ASCO webinar to learn about updates from the 2015 meeting.

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The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has existed since 1964, and has held an annual conference for almost as long. ASCO created the Journal of Clinical Oncology, a publication in which many important breast cancer studies appear, and cancer breakthroughs are often announced at ASCO’s annual meeting. For years, representatives from Living Beyond Breast Cancer have attended this conference in order to hear about the latest in breast cancer research, and to pass that information on to you, to help you navigate life after a breast cancer diagnosis.

As LBBC’s writer and content coordinator, I went to this year’s conference, which took place May 29 to June 2, in Chicago. It was my first time at the event and it was an exciting opportunity to join the more than 30,000 people from all over the world who were in attendance. Some, like me, were there as patient advocates, representing people with cancer. But the vast majority of people there were cancer doctors. They came to present their own research and to learn from their colleagues.

Over the course of 5 days, thousands of studies, hundreds of which related to breast cancer, were presented; and dozens of educational sessions, in which doctors discussed what recent findings mean for their day-to-day practices, were held.

Moving between sessions about surgery, different breast cancer types, quality of life and other topics required quick navigating of McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America. I’m certain I walked a few miles as I zigzagged through the crowds! In situations where I couldn’t be in two equally-interesting sounding sessions at once, ASCO’s use of technology and social media were really helpful. Many sessions were filmed, and the Twitter hashtag #ASCO15 helped me see what aspects of the conference people were most excited about. Even though ASCO has been over for about a week, people are STILL using the hashtag to continue the conversation. (Check it out for yourself!)

The Windy City lived up to its name while I was there: Strong storms beat down on the conference center windows for much of the meeting. But aside from the weather, Chicago embraced ASCO – Every bus stop seemed to have an ad welcoming us to Chicago and encouraging people to support cancer research. People I talked to on the street were interested in why we were there and curious about what we were learning about the future of cancer treatment.

And we learned a lot! (Visit LBBC.org for a roundup of important studies from this year’s conference.)

ASCO’s annual meeting created the unique opportunity to see just about everything exciting that’s happening in cancer care – and every important person in the field – all at one time, in one place. I got a thrill out of being able to pick out some of the world’s most prominent cancer doctors and researchers among the thousands of people in a presentation room. The “rock stars” of the cancer world were out in full force here, and the hush that would come over the crowd when they presented their research or when they approached a microphone during a Q&A session showed just how much respect these people have for each other and the important working they’re doing.

They also have a lot of respect for the people they’re treating, a fact that was highlighted by this year’s focus on the financial toll of cancer. ASCO recognizes that the cost of cancer care is skyrocketing and they made a point of having many “value discussions” in which a medicine’s cost, and the impact that cost could have on a person with cancer, was highlighted.

Another theme that appeared throughout the conference was immunotherapy, treatments that use the body’s own defenses to fight cancer. Immunotherapy shows a lot of promise in some cancers, such as lung and skin. But no breakthroughs related to immunotherapy and breast cancer were presented at the conference this year. Immunotherapy research is still in the early stages in breast cancer, but many researchers are hopeful it will play an important role in the future, so it’s something to watch out for in the coming years.

Attending this year’s ASCO annual meeting was a great experience. I loved bringing important information about breast cancer research to the people LBBC serves. It was incredibly inspiring to be surrounded by thousands of cancer doctors, some of the most intelligent, most dedicated people in the world – people who are working so hard to treat, and hopefully, to cure cancer.

Erin Rowley is LBBC’s writer and content coordinator. She serves as author and copyeditor of select LBBC publications and writes medical, psychosocial and promotional articles and blog posts for online and print publications. Read more about Erin and her contributions on LBBC.org.

Learn about updates in breast cancer research and care from our June 4 ASCO webinar recording and presentation.

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