Friday, June 2, 2023

Irish oncologist to be honoured at ASCO

The American Society for Clinical Oncology will use their annual meeting to ‘unequivocally recommit ourselves to patients’ whom they say are their ‘most important partners in cancer care and research’ writes Michael McHale

An Irish oncologist is to be honoured as a leading figure in patient care at the world’s largest gathering of cancer experts next month.

Dr Declan Walsh, Chair of the Department of Supportive Oncology at the Levin Cancer Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina, will receive the Walther Cancer Foundation Supportive Oncology Award at the 2023 meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, taking place in Chicago in June.

Dr Walsh obtained a medical degree at University College Dublin before going on to become a leading figure in palliative medicine, creating and directing the first palliative care programme in the US at the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Center in 1987.

Dr Declan Walsh

The Walther Cancer Foundation Supportive Oncology Award will recognise Dr Walsh’s contribution to palliative and supportive oncology care by advancing the prevention, assessment, and management of cancer and treatment-related suffering.

“It is an honour to receive this award. It is a sign that the area of supportive oncology is getting increasing attention and recognition, and that the field is developing rapidly,” said Dr Walsh, who is also a clinical professor of medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina.

During his award lecture, which will take place at a career and mentorship development round-table on Sunday, June 4, Dr Walsh will discuss his work in establishing the first department for supportive oncology, as well as the lessons and benefits of integrating palliative medicine, cancer rehabilitation, psycho-oncology, and other services into a single department.

“It is not just that these services make people feel better,” he added. “They have real, measurable benefits for patients with cancer and their families, including some patients living longer.”

Before taking on his role at the Levine Cancer Institute, Dr Walsh served as Professor of Palliative Medicine and founding chair of the Department of Palliative Medicine, a joint appointment between Trinity College Dublin and UCD, which he held from 2012 to 2018.

Prior to this role, he spent 25 years at the Cleveland Clinic, overseeing the development of its cancer centre’s acute care and home care services as part of its palliative care programme, which included decision-making assistance for patients and families, management of complications, and symptom control.

“As time went by (directing the program),” he said, “it became obvious that there were other complex challenges that patients with cancer had – such as rehabilitation, nutrition, and psychological complications – and palliative medicine alone was not enough.”

This realisation was the catalyst for his current role in supportive oncology at Levine, where services including rehabilitation, surgical oncology prehabilitation, nutrition and survivorship are part of a single first-of-its-kind department of supportive oncology.

At Levine, patients with cancer receive a comprehensive screening for distress at the time of diagnosis, or if their oncologist notices a behavioural change.

The screening covers a range of possible issues, including weight loss, poor sleep, and concerns about being able to pay medical bills.

“We have learned that many patients who have cancer, not just advanced cancer, have issues that they don’t necessarily bring to the attention of their physician, and we have to inquire specifically about these issues,” Dr Walsh said.

Patients who indicate distress in one or more areas are automatically referred to the appropriate specialist in the department, such as a physician, dietitian, psycho-oncologist or social worker.

Dr Walsh is also the senior editor of a textbook and web resource ‘Palliative Medicine’. Other honours have included a visiting fellowship at Oxford University and the National Leadership Award from the American Academy of Palliative Medicine. He is a fellow of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of Edinburgh and London, and the American College of Physicians.

More than 40,000 oncology professionals are expected to travel to Chicago for the 2023 ASCO meeting, which has as its theme ‘Partnering with patients: The cornerstone of cancer care and research’.

Delegates will be invited to look at how interactions between clinicians and patients have changed over the years, and what can be done to improve this relationship.

Ahead of the meeting, ASCO president Dr Eric Winer asked attendees to ‘use this annual meeting to unequivocally recommit ourselves to patients – our most important partners in cancer care and research. Better, more equitable and engaged cancer care hinges on forging deeper, more meaningful relationships between oncology clinicians and the people we care for’.

Beginning on June 2, the event will consist of 200 sessions held in-person and online across five days, as well as three days of posters and exhibits.

A new feature of this year’s meeting with see an increased focus on professional development, with a ‘career connections’ space designed to facilitate informal meetings with colleagues and peers, as well as panel discussions on topics such as career transitions, and using social media for career advancement, mock interviews and one-to-one mentoring sessions.

Rapid abstract sessions in the areas of breast cancer, immunotherapy and lung cancer will also feature for the first time, while ‘highlights of the day’ sessions will summarise the key events on June 4, 5 and 6.

US Surgeon-General Dr Vivek Murthy will be among the guest speakers at the meeting’s opening session. Described as ‘the nation’s doctor’ the US Surgeon-General’s role is to use the best scientific information to provide clear, consistent guidance and resources for the public, and ensure that America’s most vulnerable communities are reached.

Among other leading oncology professionals to be honoured with prestigious awards is the Director of the US National Cancer Institute, Dr Monica Bertagnolli, who will receive the Allen Lichter Visionary Leader Award. Dr Deborah Schrag, chair of the Department of Medicine at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center will receive the ASCO-American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Award for her pioneering work, which includes engaging patients in reporting outcomes to improve care.

Dr Hans Wildiers, a medical oncologists dedicated to breast cancer research, will receive the BJ Kennedy Geriatric Oncology Award, while Dr Angela DeMichele, co-leader of the Breast Cancer Research Programme in the Ambramson Cancer Centre in Pennsylvania, will receive the Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Award.

Other meeting highlights will include plenary sessions featuring presentations and discussion of the top clinical abstracts of the year, and 24 oral abstract sessions and 14 clinical science symposia featuring over 250 oral abstract presentations. Over 2,000 posters will be presented, including trials in progress, while poster discussion sessions will provide more commentary on the top posters.

The full programme for this year’s meeting will be announced in May.

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