Feature Article

ASCO President Puts Patients at the Center of Initiatives

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has new leadership, and a new set of ambitious, patient-centered goals.

Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD, started her term as the new ASCO president in June of 2018, taking over for Bruce E. Johnson, MD. To guide the next year of her presidency and for the first time ever, an additional three on the board of ASCO, she has announced her presidential theme, "Caring for Every Patient, Learning from Every Patient."

“Serving as ASCO president is a tremendous personal honor,” said Bertagnolli. “It is an opportunity for me to make a meaningful difference by providing a strong voice in the health care community for those whom I consider to be my particular constituency: clinical and translational researchers, community and academic oncologists participating in clinical research and surgical oncologists.”

Bertagnolli is chief of the division of surgical oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, and an associate surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She has been a clinician and researcher for over 20 years, specializing in the treatment of colon cancer.  Bertagnolli has led gastrointestinal research initiatives for the correlative science initiatives within the National Cancer Institute, where she pioneered innovative approaches to colon cancer treatment.1

Strategic Initiatives

During her tenure as ASCO president, Bertagnolli will tackle some of the biggest challenges in oncology and cancer care for patients—including cost of care, access to treatment, and colon cancer prevention.

Bertagnolli has acknowledged that access to cancer care including prevention and treatment will not be a one-tiered solution. "[It] is a many-layered problem that extends deep into society, and serious solutions must come from many sources, including scientific, political, cultural, and educational initiatives," she said.

Bertagnolli will focus on initiatives that address problems with access for all cancer patients to high-quality care. "It is essential for both patients and physicians to have the necessary tools to treat cancers of all types, and skyrocketing costs of cancer care are a threat to this," she said. "Many factors drive these high expenses, and drug prices are a particularly visible aspect of this problem." But Bertagnolli does not want to sacrifice the quality of research, development, innovation or treatment to provide wider access and lower costs. "Ideally, we can look for approaches that not only reduce the cost of therapeutic development, but also make it easier for patients to enroll in clinical trials," she said.2

Bertagnolli plans to use her position in ASCO to champion public policy at the state and federal levels that helps oncologists provide quality care to all patients, including those who live in underserved areas and communities.

Another key initiative that Bertagnolli has brought to her tenure as ASCO president is a renewed push for colon cancer prevention initiatives and education. "Cancer prevention is near and dear to my heart because of my own research and early clinical experience within the field of cancer prevention," she said. Bertagnolli, through her experience, knows that cancer prevention involves adoption of and adherence to a healthy lifestyle and she sees expanding education in prevention as part of the mission.2

A Fresh Perspective

Bertagnolli acknowledges that as ASCO president, she will provide leadership in one of the most exciting times in cancer care and research. "There is an explosion of new knowledge about how to treat cancer more effectively for individual patients by tailoring treatments based on their tumor’s genetic makeup, but it is still unclear how best to apply this knowledge and how to pay for these increasingly expensive therapies," she said. "To meet this challenge, we have to keep to ASCO’s core principles to conquer cancer through research, education, and promotion of the highest-quality patient care."2


  1. "Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD, Elected ASCO President for 2018-2019 Term." https://www.asco.org/about-asco/press-center/news-releases/monica-m-bertagnolli-md-elected-asco-president-2018-2019-term. Accessed July 29, 2018.
  2. ""ASCO’s Incoming President Sets Her Goals for the Next Year." http://www.ascopost.com/issues/may-25-2018/asco-incoming-president-sets-her-goals/. Accessed July 30, 2018.