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ASCO Highlights Innovation as Key to Equitable Cancer Care

JHOP - August 2022 Vol 12, No 4 - ASCO Highlights

The theme for the 2022 ASCO meeting was “Advancing Equitable Cancer Care Through Innovation.” The theme was selected by 2021-2022 ASCO President Everett E. Vokes, MD, FASCO, Chair, Department of Medicine, University of Chicago Medicine, IL, who encouraged attendees to learn about some of the most recent innovations in oncology that promote more equitable cancer care. The goal is to improve the lives of all those touched by cancer, leading toward a future of equity in cancer care.

“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,” said Dr Vokes at his Presidential Address.

Deep-seated disparities in cancer care remain between geographic regions and socioeconomic populations. “Catastrophic events, like war, epidemics, and national disasters, can compound these global disparities in cancer care,” Dr Vokes 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,” he pointed out. “In the United States, 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, has also sparked innovation in healthcare, such as telemedicine and other novel ways to deliver care. The launch of a new data visualization tool by ASCO allows users to explore the geographic distribution of systemic and socioeconomic factors that influence cancer care delivery in the United States.

In the ASCO Interactive Map of Oncology,1 users can view population-based oncology-related data by state and by county, overlaid with COVID-specific data, including state-level data from the ASCO Survey on COVID-19 in Oncology Registry. “Let’s keep this innovation momentum going,” he urged.

Dr Vokes called for wider access to innovative cancer 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 replace, more invasive diagnostic methods in oncology.

“In addition to testing and treatment, we are also developing novel tools to better communicate with our patients,” he said, using the example of remote symptom-monitoring improvements. Flagging symptoms early through the electronic reporting of patient outcomes has improved patients’ survival. Other data show 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 said. And ASCO continues to advocate for more diversity in clinical trials.

A bill in Congress would allow companies to reimburse participants for transportation, childcare, and other expenses associated with participation in a clinical trial. “Recognizing cost as a barrier, and being proactive in removing that barrier, is important,” Dr Vokes said.

  1. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Interactive map of oncology: COVID-19. Updated May 16, 2022. https://asco-interactive-map-of-oncology-covid-19-asco1.hub.arcgis.com/. Accessed June 21, 2022.
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