Dear ESMO members, colleagues and friends,
This long and destabilising year is drawing to a close, and out of the many emotions it has brought up, the one I would like to focus on now is gratefulness.
I am grateful that throughout the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, which is affecting people’s lives at home and at work everywhere in the world, our community has managed to stay closely knit despite limited opportunities for in-person contact and collaboration. I am also grateful that ESMO has been there to bridge the physical distance between us and offer guidance in times of extreme uncertainty. Our Society has stood by its members, mobilising all its resources to evolve and respond to new, emerging needs, and adapting every service that could be adapted to continue supporting you during and through the crisis. It may have been a long year, but we have also come a long way since it began.
The new restrictions that govern our social and professional interactions have called into question many things we previously took for granted, including access to high-quality oncology education and scientific evidence. For the first time this year, we had to make the heart-wrenching decision not to convene in person to present and discuss the most recent cancer research: most of our highly anticipated meetings, including the ESMO Congress, could not be maintained in their usual form. Yet thanks to technological innovation and broad commitment from oncologists around the world, virtual event formats enabled us to avoid the potential loss of learning opportunities and keep up the pace of research.
Unfortunately, good evidence was severely lacking in the early days of the global outbreak. It suddenly became hard for us as medical oncologists to know how best to manage our patients – a group who we initially feared might be made more vulnerable to complications from a COVID-19 infection by aggressive treatments and frequent hospital visits. To help us all draw lessons from an evolving situation and identify best practices based on concrete evidence in close to real time, ESMO moved quickly to establish a dedicated COVID-19 and cancer portal where incoming data and fellow oncologists’ practical experiences were made freely available and easily accessible. Based on what reliable information there was, a series of recommendations were developed to support oncology professionals in the delivery of quality cancer care.
Notwithstanding all our community’s efforts to keep essential healthcare services open, one of the immediate consequences of measures adopted worldwide to curb the spread of COVID-19 has been a serious reduction in global cancer screening activities, negatively impacting cancer prevention through early detection. The potential implications of this for future cancer mortality are not something that our Society could sit idly by and watch happen. In November, we announced a collaboration with the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) for the development of an online learning platform integrating all research on cancer prevention in one free and easy-to-access resource hub. This historic step for our Society is a first important milestone in our shared, long-term commitment to enlarging the base of doctors who are properly educated in key primary prevention measures and in secondary prevention through early diagnosis.
The new year holds the possibility of a gradual end to this global health crisis. There will be lost time to make up for, and entire areas of care, like cancer prevention, to rebuild. However, in the months ahead we cannot afford to focus only on “returning to normal” in oncology: cancer patients are counting on us to continue innovating in ways that will measurably change their lives for the better. We owe it to them to keep our sights firmly set on turning today’s breakthroughs in the lab into improved treatment options tomorrow. As a Society, we have remained strongly committed to bringing precision medicine to fruition in the clinic: tools like the ESMO Scale for Clinical Actionability of molecular Targets (ESCAT) and ESMO’s recommendations on the use of next-generation genetic sequencing techniques have proven essential to driving its integration in daily clinical practice.
The resourcefulness and pioneering spirit that we have seen within our organisation, and from all of you, over the past months give me more confidence than ever that our field of oncology will keep moving forward in 2021 – no matter what challenges may still lie ahead. This will require us, collectively, to keep up our efforts after what has already been a draining year for people everywhere, and for healthcare professionals especially. But just as it has done in 2020, ESMO will continue to stand behind you, its members, to give you the backing and orientation you need to become better doctors for your patients every day.
Before we set our minds to the next big tasks at hand, I want to express once more my appreciation and thanks: to the ESMO Council, all the ESMO Officers and to my colleagues on the Executive Board, for the dedication they have shown under the most difficult of circumstances. And to you, dear members, for your contribution to making our Society a place where excellence prevails over any level of adversity.
I wish you and your loved ones a safe, peaceful and replenishing holiday season, as well as a happy and healthy New Year.