Today marks the beginning of the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, or ASCO for short. Taking place over five days in Chicago, ASCO 2015 will bring together some of the finest minds in cancer research from across the country and around the globe, to share their research findings.
If you’re like me (a patient who thrives on keeping up with the latest research in their cancer type) the ASCO meeting is like a combination of espresso, Christmas, and a warm blanket. Pretty strange seeming, I know, but somehow I feel simultaneously pepped up and comforted by the overwhelming amount of research news that comes out during this conference.
Though the content at the conference is directed towards oncologists, there is a lot that is accessible for patients. This list of tips will help you get the most of out of ASCO 2015.
Keep up to date on the news
There are lots of sources for ASCO-related news: many of the summaries of study results, known as abstracts, are available now on ASCO’s website, and are searchable or browse-able by cancer type.
If combing through the abstracts isn’t for you, Cancer.net will be blogging on news for patients.
And CRI will be posting daily immunotherapy-focused recaps right here on our blog.
If you’re a Twitter user, you can follow #ASCO15 for all the tweets. For a not-so-overwhelming option (last year there were over 38,000 tweets!) try subscribing to ASCO’s list of Featured Voices – these are clinical oncologists specially selected for their great insights.
And of course, follow @CancerResearch for immunotherapy updates.
A little vocab can go a long way
There are lots of acronyms thrown around in scientific abstracts, and when I was first reading them I would get overwhelmed by basic terms that I didn’t know. Here are some that may help as you skim through:
Overall Survival (OS) is the length of time from the start of treatment that patients are still alive.
Progression-free Survival (PFS) is the length of time during and after the treatment of a disease that a patient is alive, and their disease hasn’t gotten worse.
Durable Response (DR) is the length of time that a patient experiences a complete or partial response as a result of treatment.
Primary Endpoints (PE) measure outcomes that will answer the most important question being posed by the trial. A study might be seeking to find, for instance, if a particular treatment can stop a cancer’s progression for at least six months. So the primary endpoint of that trial would be six months of progression free survival.
Another thing to keep in mind is the phase of the trial being discussed. Results from a small phase I trial have different implications for patients than results from a large phase III trial. However, both can be big news. Here’s a list of trial phases and what they mean:
Phase I trials are usually small and not randomized, meaning all the patients receive the same treatment. The primary goal is to make sure the treatment is safe, though some phase I trials also show that a treatment might be effective.
Phase II trials are larger (around 100 - 200 patients) and may be randomized or not. The primary goal of a phase II trial is to see if the treatment works against the disease.
Phase III trials are the largest, sometimes comprising thousands of patients, and are usually randomized, with some patients receiving the treatment being studied, and others receiving a placebo (in cancer treatment, this usually means they receive the current standard of care). A phase III trial is the last step before a treatment gets submitted for FDA approval.
A more complete list of clinical trial terms can be found on TheAnswerToCancer.org.
…but don’t worry if some things go over your head.
Many of us patients are experts in our own conditions, but most of us aren’t oncologists. (I barely remember high school biology!) I recommend flagging the abstracts and articles you see that feel might be pertinent to your care, and sharing them with your medical team after the conference. Some might turn out not be relevant to you, but I always like to keep the conversation going about the latest developments, and this is a good way.
And if all this seems like a bit too much, don’t fret – we’ve got you covered. Shortly after the close of ASCO 2015, we’ll be sharing a video featuring our CEO Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, Ph.D., and an expert panel discussing the biggest news for patients out of this landmark conference. Be sure to check back!