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A rich history serves as a platform for innovation for ASCO’s CancerLinQ

Kevin Fitzpatrick, Chief Executive Officer, CancerLinQ

The field of oncology has been filled with pioneers dedicated to furthering research and science in search of a cure for cancer. Many of those pioneers in medical oncology have been members of the nonprofit American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), including Sidney Farber, MD; Kanti R. Rai, MD; and Janet D. Rowley, MD. These physicians dedicated their lives to improving the quality of care for patients with cancer. This commitment to quality and the quest for knowledge is still alive today in CancerLinQ, a health information technology (HIT) platform that will harness Big Data to deliver high-quality care to patients with cancer that is being compiled by CancerLinQ, a wholly owned nonprofit subsidiary of ASCO.

This rapid learning system for oncology data brings together a network of members of and practitioners in the field of oncology who contribute to the care of cancer patients everywhere and provides users with access to data from potentially millions of cancer patients to help inform decisions about patient care. In effect, CancerLinQ is the evolutionary next step in ASCO’s rich 50-plus-year history of being the world’s leading professional organization for physicians and oncology professionals caring for people with cancer.

ASCO’s vision for high quality cancer care

In 1964, seven cancer physicians came together and founded ASCO with a single purpose: to improve the care of people with cancer. Because cancer was then viewed as largely incurable and there were few treatments available, there was a stigma and lack of discussion about the disease, which offered patients little information or support. While the society has grown over the years to over 40,000 members, the mission has remains the same: conquering cancer through research, education, and promotion of the highest quality patient care.

To achieve this mission, the Society, from its outset, has focused on professional development as a way to improve the quality of care for patients with cancer. In 1965, its first year of incorporation, ASCO hosted the first in what would become 51 annual meetings by 2016. The small gathering of approximately 70 attendees at that initial meeting would swell to become nearly 39,000 at what is now considered the premier educational event in oncology. From its inception, the meeting was created to align with ASCO’s clinically oriented mission and was considered crucial to its future success and vitality.

Over the years, ASCO has remained unique as the only organization of its kind that encompasses all oncology subspecialties, allowing its members to grow from the professional and personal expertise of their colleagues worldwide and across disciplines. International members from more than 120 countries make up approximately 30 percent of the Society’s total membership. The Society promotes the highest quality of care for patients through physician education, quality adherence and certification programs, and now, through CancerLinQ.

While the Society’s membership has grown, so, too, has the oncological body of knowledge, and many crucial advances have been made in the past 52 years:

  • Use of radioactive seeds: In the early 1970s, studies suggested that an approach called brachytherapy extended the lives of patients with prostate cancer, compared to surgical removal of the prostate and surrounding tissue. In this approach, tiny radioactive sources, or “seeds,” are implanted directly into the prostate gland, delivering a high dose of radiation directly to the tumor while leaving healthy tissue beyond the prostate relatively unaffected.
  • Use of CT scanning for tumor imaging: In the 1970s, researchers performed the first computed tomography (CT) scan on a human patient with a suspected brain tumor, which allowed doctors for the first time to clearly see tumors arising in the soft tissue of the brain. Over the following decades, CT scanning enabled doctors to assess the size, shape and location of many other types of tumors and to carefully target radiation and surgery to hit the tumors without harming healthy tissue.
  • First use of adjuvant chemotherapy: Beginning in 1975, after overcoming concerns in the cancer community about whether the benefits outweigh the risks, Drs. Bernard Fisher and Gianni Bonadonna demonstrated that chemotherapy after surgery – known as adjuvant chemotherapy – prolonged the lives of women with early-stage breast cancer. Adjuvant chemotherapy became a major component of treatment for the disease, improving survival and cure rates. Additionally, the findings provided a foundation for research on adjuvant therapy in other common cancers, making it one of the most important advances in modern cancer care.
  • Mapping cancer genomes: In 2005, the National Cancer Institute and National Human Genome Research Institute launched The Cancer Genome Atlas project. By gaining a deeper understanding of the genetic pathways involved in the development and growth of these cancers, researchers hope to identify molecular targets that can guide development of effective new treatment.

CancerLinQ is the next step in ASCO’s focus on quality care for patients

The same spirit of progress, innovation, and dedication to adding to the field’s body of knowledge is exemplified by ASCO’s members, and it is what drives CancerLinQ. In turn, the platform benefits from the Society’s authoritative expertise and half-century-long mission to conquer cancer through research, education, and promotion of the highest quality patient care. It also makes CancerLinQ the only database of its kind created by a physician-led organization – essentially, by oncologists for oncologists.

Additionally, as a result of ASCO’s reputation, collective wisdom, and goodwill in the oncology community, the developers of CancerLinQ are able to forge relationships with stakeholders to make the platform a truly collaborative enterprise. CancerLinQ Chief Executive Officer Kevin Fitzpatrick has set goals for CancerLinQ to be inclusive, be engaged, and foster collegial exchange.

Since going live in February 2016, ASCO has continued to build the CancerLinQ database, collecting more than one million patient records and signing on additional Vanguard Practices, for a total of 70 at the time this article was published. These 66 practices represent more than 1,500 providers in 39 states and the District of Columbia Participants at both small private practices and some of the nation’s leading cancer centers including, Cancer Treatment Centers of America Global, Catholic Health Initiatives, and Intermountain Healthcare.

The CancerLinQ platform was co-developed with SAP utilizing the SAP Connected Health platform that runs on SAP HANA, a flexible, in-memory data management and application platform created by SAP.

Earlier this year, CancerLinQ was selected as one of the first strategic partners on SAP Connected Health, which will grow to include an ecosystem of a variety of different organizations that influence every aspect of the cycle of care, from payers to providers and from researchers to life sciences companies.

Click here to see a video from participating CancerLinQ physicians describing why they decided to sign on to the platform.