Each year the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) releases a report highlighting the greatest clinical advances in cancer research and treatment for the past year. In the most recent report, released in early February, ASCO president Howard “Skip” Burris III, MD, named the refinement of surgical treatment of cancer as the Advance of the Year, with the introduction of neoadjuvant therapies to allow for surgery that is less extensive and more curative, and novel targeted therapies that can now ameliorate the need for organ resection, such as in renal cell carcinoma. Moreover, data are emerging that the implementation of vaccination programs against the human papillomavirus is now manifesting in decreases in cervical cancer risk, and research on predictive biomarkers is now translating into better personalization of cancer therapies. The report also identified several unmet needs in cancer treatment as key priorities for future research, including predicting response and resistance to immunotherapy, optimizing systemic therapy, decreasing treatment-related adverse events, improving equitable access to clinical trials, improving care for patients with rare cancers and older adults, reducing the impact of obesity on cancer incidence, and earlier detection of cancer.

High Altitude: A major focus of this report is identifying factors that contribute to successful research and key areas for future research. Academic clinicians may find the information useful when determining future directions for their clinical trials and in developing strategies to improve clinical trial design. In particular, this report highlights the importance of federal funding for cancer research in driving key advances.

Ground Level: This report highlights that the efforts of clinicians at all levels have contributed to improving the care and treatment of patients with cancer, creating a 27% decrease in cancer deaths since 1991. These positive outcomes, along with similar figures included in the report, represent important information to share both with the cancer treatment team and with newly diagnosed patients, who often experience stress and anxiety regarding their prognosis.