June 2013 Edition Vol.7, Issue 6

“Bridges Built” at the 2013 ASCO Annual Meeting

“Bridges Built” at the 2013 ASCO Annual Meeting

By Lynne Lederman, PhD


The theme of the 49th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago was “Building Bridges to Conquer Cancer.” When asked shortly after the meeting if she thought the meeting theme was accomplished, ASCO President Sandra M. Swain, MD, said, “Absolutely I do. I think after Paul Farmer’s talk [on global health and cancer care], and my presidential address, and hearing the plenary talk on cervical cancer, I had so many people feel inspired, which was my goal. The bridges were built internationally, and I think the international community really felt that they were heard and that they were part of the meeting.” Dr. Swain said that the other important accomplishments included mentoring future generations of oncologists. “I had a lot of comments about the younger people also being inspired. I felt that that bridge was really built, too,” she said. The third achievement was CancerLinQ, which is the subject of a separate OBR article.

Attendance Increasing

Dr. Swain said she didn’t think digital access to meetings has jeopardized attendance. “We were actually up in attendance from last year, and I think people still like the common feeling of excitement. You can walk around and feel the excitement, it was really palpable. [Attendees] have a chance to network and meet with other people.” According to an ASCO staff member, preliminary figures showed more than 32,300 total attendees, of whom 26,400 were professionals, that is, individuals other than exhibitors, spouses, guests, or members of the media. The final figures for 2012 were 31,250 total registrants, of whom 25,500 were professionals. In 2012, 48% of attendees were domestic, 52% international. Breakdown by country is not yet available for 2013, but Dr. Swain believes it will be similar, saying, “That was why it was important for me to highlight the global community. It is an issue for the developing countries to be able to have access to some of the newer molecular therapies, but I think the bigger issue is access to screening and prevention, which the Shastri study1 addressed.”

Overall Highlights

A record-breaking 5,306 abstracts were submitted for this year’s meeting, and nearly 2,700 individuals gave presentations. The plenary session included five practice-changing talks on cervical cancer screening1 and the treatment of glioblastoma,2 cervical cancer,3 thyroid cancer,4 and breast cancer.5 For the second year, post-plenary sessions allowed small, focused discussions among the presenters, discussants, selected panelists, and meeting attendants.  

Dr. Swain said, “For me the biggest highlight was the Shastri study1 showing that you could potentially save so many lives in India, and as Electra Paskett said in her discussion, potentially 270,000 lives worldwide. I think of anything that had the biggest implications for a survival benefit for patients. The other major themes that I thought were really exciting were in immunotherapy,” which included new data on checkpoint inhibitors. Dr. Swain also mentioned the exercise study for men showing that men in middle age who were fit regardless of whether they were lean or obese had a decrease incidence of certain cancers and a better outcome.6 “I thought that was great too, a good message for people that fitness is important not only for cardiac health, but also as far as cancer is concerned,” she said.  

Social Media at ASCO

Social media in its various forms are being used by ASCO in its day-to-day functioning, and at the annual meeting. Dr. Swain said, “People are using social media while they are at the meeting. There were a lot of people using Twitter. We had the ASCO Interactive Meeting where you could record the sessions and actually get CME on the spot. I think [social media] is making [the annual meeting] more accessible whether you are there or not there.”

According to an ASCO staff member, the following social media innovations were introduced during last year’s meeting:

  • Tweetchat with the press in advance of the annual meeting
  • Live Twitter coverage of sessions, aggregated with official meeting hashtag
  • Onsite Tweetup
  • Live Tweeting of ASCO’s Presidential Address
  • Live photo coverage of meeting with images shared on Facebook and Twitter
  • Annual meetings’ news and updates via ASCO’s 11 different social media channels
  • Prominent placement of official hashtag on session opening slides, Internet station screensavers, and displays in the press room

Of these, all except the press Tweetchat were available at this year’s meeting, where the following were added:

  • Social Media Tips for Oncology Professionals: a wallet-sized card, available online7 as well as throughout the convention center during the meeting
  • Opened up Tweetup invitation beyond members to include media, patients, patient advocates
  • Twitter use and engagement by ASCO leadership 

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