Kate O'Rourke

February 29, 2016

BOSTON — Close to 2000 surgical oncologists are descending on Boston this coming week for the Society of Surgical Oncology (SSO) 2016 Cancer Symposium. Over 4 days, including a day of preconference workshops, attendees will hear about the latest advances in immunotherapy, biomarkers, and surgical approaches.

"We have a very broad and diverse set of talks and posters in all of the areas of surgical oncology," said Richard Schulick, MD, MBA, chair of the SSO scientific program committee, chair of surgery, and professor of surgery–gastrointestinal tumor/endocrinology, University of Colorado Hospital, Denver.

"This year, we have great participation from international surgical oncologists," he commented.

One topic on which views from around the world will be heard is gastric cancer. Speakers in this session hail from Japan, Korea, and Italy. "We view the accomplishments in other countries as extremely important," said Dr Schulick. "There is a ton of research going on in the United States, but you can't focus and study everything at every institution. All surgical groups around the world are trying to do things better, and different groups focus on different problems. We are trying to focus attention on what international clinicians have done and have them bring their research to us, so we may learn."

At this year's meeting, there is heightened focus on immunotherapy. Sessions will cover advances in solid tumors as well as how immunotherapy has changed the treatment of melanoma.

"Immunotherapy is one of the rapidly moving areas in cancer therapy," said Dr Schulick. "It doesn't matter whether you go to a surgical oncology meeting, a medical oncology meeting, or radiation oncology, there is always a lot on immunotherapy."

World renowned immunotherapy expert Steven Rosenberg, MD, PhD, chief of surgery, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, will give the prestigious James Ewing Lecture. He will focus on harnessing T cells to treat cancer.

Biomarker research is another big area of interest at the meeting. Jose Baselga, MD, PhD, physician-in-chief at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, will deliver the John Wayne Clinical Research Lecture, which will focus on personalized medicine in cancer treatment. The aim is to identify biomarkers that can help predict which patients need less therapy, including surgery, as well as identify those patients who would benefit from more therapy.

"Some patients respond to this, some patients respond to that, and some patients respond to nothing," said Dr Schulick. "It is better to figure that out ahead of time before you start giving drugs and treatments, so you maximize the benefit and minimize toxicity."

Because of their popularity, SSO has doubled the number of debates that were conducted last year. There are now four. "The debates have been one of the most popular sessions," said Dr Schulick. "You have a lot of back-and-forth from two experts that are really trying to push their argument. Potentially, you can learn a lot more under those circumstances, and it is entertaining."

Debate topics this year include whether resection first is the best treatment for resectable pancreatic head adenocarcinoma. "The pancreas has a head, body, and tail. This debate is very specific to the head of the pancreas, which is next to all of the major blood vessels," said Dr Schulick. "The implications for technically removing a lesion in the head are different from the body and tail."

A second debate will focus on the value of public reporting of hospital- and provider-level outcomes. In a third, clinicians will argue the merits of resection of primary colorectal cancer for patients with unresectable metastatic disease.

A fourth debate will question whether surgeons should discourage women from undergoing contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. This debate is held against a background of data showing an increase in this procedure among women in the United States, despite a lack of survival benefit.

Dr Schulick believes the preconference workshops will be well attended. These include an update on ultrasound for the practicing oncologist and an update course in surgical oncology for the practicing surgeon. Other preconference workshops are geared toward clinicians who want to do more research and on practical aspects of starting a surgical oncology career.

The final program provides details on preconference workshops, scientific sessions, posters, and events.

Dr Schulick has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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