The American Society of Clinical Oncology recently made public nearly all of the abstracts — more than 5,000 pieces of research — that were selected for the ASCO annual meeting, which kicked off in Chicago on the last day of May.
Sifting through those 5,000 abstracts would be an almost inhuman task: each abstract contains 2,000 characters. That’s 10 million characters of information about oncology created by experts that’s now available for the public to parse.
But as remarkable as the ASCO abstract drop is, that research is not the only overwhelming trove of communication on cancer created by doctors. One ASCO abstract (based on research by me and W2O colleagues Greg Matthews and Kayla Rodriguez) tells story of how, over the course of 2013, U.S. doctors tweeted about cancer 82,383 times. At 140 characters a tweet, that’s nearly 12 million characters.
We know there were 82,383 tweets because we counted them. Using our MDigitalLife database, which matches Twitter handles with verified profiles from the government’s physician database, we scanned all tweets by doctors for mentions of dozens of keywords associated with cancer over the course of calendar year 2013.
The 30,000 member American Society of Clinical Oncology is the world’s leading group of cancer physicians. ASCO is dedicated to curing cancer, supporting research, quality care, reducing treatment disparities and a heightened national focus on value. This month they released their annual Report on Progress Against Cancer, which highlights research, drug development and cancer care innovations. This hundred-page document is important reading for anyone who wants to be up-to-date regarding cancer care.
Cancer related deaths in the United States are dropping, but still totaled 577,000 in 2012. While world cancer research funding is rising, in the USA it continues to decrease, with the purchasing power of the largest funding source, the National Cancer Institute, having fallen 20% in the last decade, and a further 8% cut slated for January 1, 2013. Development is dependent on government and private funding, as well as the willingness of more than 25,000 patients a year who volunteer to be involved in cancer trials. All these critical supports are threatened. The Federal Clinical Trials Cooperative of the National Cancer Institute (FCLC, NCI) supports research at 3100 institutions in the USA.
The report discusses the many types of cancer which continue to be naturally resistant to cancer treatment, particularly chemotherapy. In some cases, drugs do not penetrate a part of the body, such as the brain, in other cases even when they reach the tumor, they are not effective. In such cancers the genetic code of the cancer cells has mutated (changed) such that the particular drug does not kill the cancer. In 2012, there was increased interest in attacking each cancer cell at multiple targets either by using a single drug, which attacks in several different ways, or multiple drugs at the same time. This concept improved cancer killing in GIST, colon cancer, certain lymphomas (ALCL) and medullary thyroid cancer. In addition, unique targeted compounds, such as “tyrosine kinase inhibitors,” show increasing benefit in leukemia, sarcoma and breast cancer.