The Year Ahead – A Preview to The European Cancer Conference

European Oncology Review, 2005:14-6

The European Cancer Conference (ECCO) has become established as ‘the’ European cancer event, and the need for such a large and highly scientific conference in Europe is greater than ever. The strength of translational research and the number of clinical trials being carried out by European researchers is growing, and with the recent expansion of the EU, the output, in terms of quality research and clinical trials, is sure to increase considerably over the next few years. Some of the most significant advances being made in oncology stem from translational research, and Europe is very fortunate to have an extremely strong and active translational research sector in oncology. The two main priorities established by the author upon becoming Federation of European Cancer Societies (FECS) President were to increase the scientific level of the clinical papers at the ECCO conference and especially to increase the amount of translational research presentations there. The author is optimistic that these aims have been successfully achieved.

This year’s conference, ECCO 13, will be held in Paris, from 30 October to 3 November and has received the highest number of abstracts of any ECCO to date. The quality and topicality of the data submitted is exceptional, with the translational data, in particular, being of the highest quality. For ECCO 13 the involvement of a great number of delegates who are world authorities in their respective areas has been secured. This article will draw particular attention to four of the invited speakers and award winners who have made significant and lasting contributions to the world of oncology.

Professor Harold Varmus, from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, is winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. He will give a critical overview of the crucial role of molecular techniques in shaping the future of cancer treatment in his ECCO 13 keynote lecture ‘Molecular Oncology Comes of Age’. As former Director of the National Institute of Health in the US, Professor Varmus’s influence on cancer research, and science policy in general, has been felt around the world and he continues to play an active and significant role in the field of oncology. His research work in elucidating the cellular origins of the oncogene of the chicken retrovirus sparked the explosion of interest in the molecular origins of cancer and led to the isolation of many genes that are frequently mutated in human cancer.

For cancer treatment to be effective, Professor Varmus sees the need for molecular cancer research and clinical practice to become far more closely linked, which would enable the use of the molecular genetics of cancer to inform and guide all aspects of cancer care. An essential component of this vision of the future of cancer care is the identification of additional oncogene mutations, through genetic mapping, which would open the door to the development of new treatments and the identification of new potential drug targets. This future vision will be realised through exciting initiatives like the proposed Human Cancer Genome Project, which aims, over the next 10 years, to characterise the phenotypes and genotypes of the most common forms of cancer. Professor Varmus has been key in the development and promotion of such essential innovations.

Sir Richard Peto, Professor of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology at Oxford University, has accepted the FECS Clinical Research Award, which he will be presented with during ECCO 13.He is perhaps best known for his studies on the causes of lung cancer, in which he proved (together with Sir Richard Doll) that half of all persistent smokers will eventually be killed by tobacco. This understanding of the health implications of tobacco smoking initiated the wave of public health legislation that has been seen across Europe, and is directly responsible for the declining incidence of lung cancer in some countries. In the 1970s, Sir Richard also pioneered the use of the log-rank test for meta-analyses of results from many different randomised trials, and is especially noted for his research on the treatment of early breast cancer using this technique. It was for this work that he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to cancer epidemiology. Over the last 20 years he has gathered definitive evidence to show that adjuvant chemoendocrine therapy for early breast cancer affects survival. This work was updated recently with the publication of the 15- year follow-up of the Early Breast Cancer Trialists’ Collaborative Group (EBCTCG) study, which showed that differences in 15-year survival are more than twice as great as those for five-year survival.1 The conclusion of this EBCTCG study is that earlier diagnosis and treatment will mean that mortality rates for breast cancer in middle-aged women will be half as high in the year 2010 as they were in 1990. As part of his FECS Clinical Research Award lecture Sir Richard will present new data from the follow-up of the Early Breast Cancer Trialists Group.

  1. Early Breast Cancer Trialists’ Collaborative Group (EBCTCG), “Effects of chemotherapy and hormonal therapy for early breast cancer on recurrence and 15-year survival: an overview of the randomised trials”, Lancet 14 May 2005: pp. 1,687–1,717.
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