Look who’s at the ASCO Meeting too

It’s day three of the ASCO Meeting here in Chicago.

So far, I have to say, it’s been a bit underwhelming. Unlike some years past, there don’t appear to have been any real blockbuster results to report; rather, lots of incremental studies were presented. There’s really only one study presented that I might blog, mainly because it relates to posts that I did before about early detection of cancer and using MRI to screen for breast cancer, but that will probably have to wait until tomorrow or after I get back. In this impression, I don’t appear to be alone, as Dr. Len Lichtenfield, the CEO of the American Cancer Society and who’s actually blogging the meeting, appears to have the same impression.

One thing about the ASCO Meeting is that it’s big. I mean really, really big. I mean, jaw-droppingly, astoundingly big. I mean: “add whatever Douglas Adams’ superlatives from The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy you want to use” big. I don’t have Dr. Lichtenfeld’s perspective. I’m told there are some 35,000 attendees; this has to be the largest cancer meeting in the world. If it isn’t, I don’t know of any that are bigger, unless there’s one in Europe or Asia. In any case, I’ve never known the meeting to be anything other than the behemoth that it is now, given that I only started attending semi-regularly a few years ago. Dr Len, however, remembers a time before ASCO became so huge and reminisces thusly:

When I first started attending ASCO in the early 1970s, it was a relatively small meeting with a couple of hundred attendees. The meeting could be held in small convention centers attached to hotels in various locations around the country.

Getting your arms around the agenda and attending many of the sessions wasn’t difficult to do. You knew which presentations were important, and there were no exhibits to distract your attention.

I can still recall the debate at ASCO as to whether we would allow exhibitors to have displays at our meeting. The debate was academic, with strong concern about the potential influence of the exhibitors on our clinical judgment. The counter argument was the revenue the exhibits would generate. Revenue won.

Today’s ASCO meeting is much, much different.

There are literally tens of thousands of attendees and exhibitors. The exhibit hall is huge, and the “booths” are incredible presentations. Some even include live shows and lectures designed to attract the physicians into the booth.

Many of the attendees are from other countries, further confirming the importance of cancer research and therapeutics throughout the world.

We used to meet in small venues. Today, we are at McCormick Place in Chicago. I literally walked a mile (as measured by my pedometer) just to get from the bus area to the registration area, then walked another half mile back to the lecture hall where I am now sitting.

But, and perhaps most important, I can no longer get my arms around the program. There are hundreds if not thousands of educational, scientific, and research presentations.

Neither can I. There’s just no way. In fact, I plan on posting some pictures that I took of the meeting and the exhibit hall area after I get back. I would post them now, except that, idiot that I was when packing, I forgot to bring along the transfer cable for my digital camera and thus cannot get the pictures uploaded to my computer until I get home. Timeliness is not worth finding an electronics store somewhere and buying a cable here just for that purpose. In any case, I try to focus mainly on my specialty, breast cancer, and even doing that it’s hard to hit all the sessions that might be of interest.

Dr. Len’s comments about exhibitors also piqued my interest, because there was some serious swag to be had at the exhibit booths. Again, my posts on this will have to wait until I get home, because at least one of them would be much better illustrated with some pictures. Suffice it to say that popular swag items this year appeared to be laser pointers, wireless mouses, and remote PowerPoint slide advancers, among the usual collection of pens, bags, and various other paraphernalia.

Let’s see, that’s two possible posts from the meeting. Wait, three, counting this post. Not bad.

Back to the meeting. Later today, i plan on visiting my old friends at the University of Chicago, where I did my last research fellowship in the late 1990’s.


  1. #1 bdf
    June 4, 2007

    Here’s a preemptive welcome back! 🙂

  2. #2 Barry
    June 4, 2007

    ” I’m told there are some 35,000 attendees; this has to be the largest cancer meeting in the world. ”

    But is it big enough to cause cancer itself?

    Enquiring minds want to know 🙂

  3. #3 Renaisauce
    June 4, 2007

    I attended a Society of Neuroscience meeting that sounded just like that. It’s great that there are so many people in a field, but I wonder if we’re going to see the end of a lot of major biomedical conferences, or simply break them down over a year span by sub-specialty (which other organizations already do). The alternative would be to just cure all of the different cancers, thereby reducing the researching population to something much more manageable. Why don’t they just do that? It’s a win-win.

  4. This is why I stopped going to ASCO a long time ago. I also think that the meeting is way too large to efficiently gather the information being presented. They need to consider breaking it up into three or four smaller meetings a year. Fat chance for that, though…

  5. #5 anjou
    June 4, 2007

    Until the mid 80’s ASCO and AACR were held in the same city, one after the other. This was stopped –not enough hotel rooms etc etc

  6. #6 Josh
    June 5, 2007

    I just did my first conference in Berlin. Only 7000 people in total, but still a lot bigger than anything else I’ve seen. They did have a nasty habit of starting at 7am, although I think the only people there were the americans who’s internal clocks were screwed up in the right direction to get out of bed in time!

  7. #7 Deech56
    June 5, 2007

    As a past attendee of both ASCO and AACR, I can say that the difference in goodies is substantial. Seriously, these larger meetings are almost too overwhelming for anything besides hitting a few choice talks and meeting up with old friends. Judicious planning at a brew pub during happy hour is a must. Of course, after DCA gets approved (unless the evil medical establishment gets its way), there will be no need for any of these cancer-related meetings.

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