Clinical Cancer Advances 2019: ASCO Names Advance of the Year, Debuts Research Priorities for the Cancer Community

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In the release of its annual report on progress against cancer, Clinical Cancer Advances 2019, ASCO recognized progress in treating rare cancers as the Advance of the Year. The report catalogs a year’s worth of remarkable research advancements, reinforces the need for continued federal research funding, and details other major trends in oncology.

Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD, FACS, FASCO

Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD, FACS, FASCO

“Progress is moving at a quicker pace than ever before,” said 2018–2019 ASCO President Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD, FACS, FASCO. “From new success with immunotherapies and targeted therapies to new insights for molecular diagnostics and the microbiome, we’ve seen truly impactful advances in many types of cancer, especially in rare cancers.”

This year’s Clinical Cancer Advances report not only reviews the prior year’s progress but also looks forward to highlight areas where progress is most promising. For the first time, ASCO has published a list of research priorities for the cancer community, designed to address vital unmet needs in cancer care.

The report, now in its 14th year, is available online at and in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Advance of the Year: Progress in Treating Rare Cancers

According to the National Cancer Institute’s International Rare Cancers Initiative, rare cancers are those that occur in fewer than 6 out of every 100,0000 diagnosed cancers. Despite their low incidence rate, they account for about 20% of all cancers diagnosed each year in the United States.

Bruce E. Johnson, MD, FASCO

Bruce E. Johnson, MD, FASCO

“Research progress in rare cancers historically has not kept pace with advances we’ve seen in more common forms of cancer,” said Bruce E. Johnson, MD, FASCO, ASCO Immediate Past President and Co-Executive Editor of Clinical Cancer Advances 2019. “After decades of incremental advances, we’re thrilled that so many achievements against rare cancers have been realized in just a year’s time.”

The past year brought several major steps forward in treating rare forms of uterine, neuroendocrine, joint, and thyroid cancers, as well as sarcomas. These five advances, among others, prompted ASCO to name “Progress in Treating Rare Cancers” as the Advance of the Year:

  • Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first treatment for this type of thyroid cancer in nearly 50 years: a targeted-therapy combination of dabrafenib plus trametinib for patients with BRAF-mutated anaplastic thyroid carcinoma.
  • Desmoid tumors: Research identified sorafenib as the first therapy to improve progression-free survival for patients with this rare form of sarcoma.
  • Foregut, Midgut, and Hindgut Neuroendocrine Tumors: The FDA approved Lu-177 dotatate, which delivers targeted radiation to tumor cells, based on research in patients with somatostatin receptor–positive midgut tumors showing it lowers the risk of disease progession or death by 79%.
  • Uterine serous carcinoma: Research showed that trastuzumab slowed the progression of HER2-positive uterine serous carcinoma, one of the most aggressive forms of endometrial cancer.
  • Tenosynovial giant cell tumor: Pexidartinib was shown to be the first promising therapy for this rare cancer of the joints.
Sumanta K. Pal, MD

Sumanta K. Pal, MD

“Rare cancers pose unique obstacles for research, but thanks to years of cumulative progress and our nation’s continued investment in cancer research, we now have promising, evidence-based treatments for patients who would have previously had few—if any—good options,” said Sumanta K. Pal, MD, Co-Executive Editor of Clinical Cancer Advances 2019.

Nine Research Priorities to Accelerate Progress Against Cancer

ASCO’s inaugural “Research Priorities to Accelerate Progress Against Cancer” list was developed to spark new momentum in overlooked areas of research and to provide the cancer community with direction to focus its investments and resources. The current list reflects the diversity of needs and opportunities in oncology and will evolve over time with the cancer research landscape. In no particular order, ASCO’s research priorities are:

  • Identify strategies that better predict response to immunotherapies;
  • Better define the patient populations that benefit from adjuvant therapy;
  • Translate innovations in cellular therapies to solid tumors;
  • Increase precision medicine research and treatment approaches in pediatric cancers;
  • Optimize care for older adults with cancer;
  • Increase equitable access to cancer clinical trials;
  • Reduce the long-term consequences of cancer treatment;
  • Reduce obesity and its impact on cancer incidence and outcomes; and
  • Identify strategies to detect and treat premalignant lesions.
Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FACP, FSCT, FASCO

Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FACP, FSCT, FASCO

“These priorities represent our vision for finding the next generation of cancer cures and reducing cancer’s impact on patients’ lives,” said ASCO Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FACP, FSCT, FASCO, Co-Executive Editor of the report. “From prevention through survivorship, these priorities are intended to identify areas where progress is most needed and most promising.”

Importance of Federal Funding

For 14 years, ASCO’s Clinical Cancer Advances report has highlighted the year’s most important cancer advances, many of which were driven by federal research investments. This year, nearly one-third of the advances featured in the report received funding from the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies, including three of the five rare cancer studies featured as part of the Advance of the Year.

“With U.S. cancer cases set to rise by roughly a third over the next decade, we must continue to advance research that saves lives,” Dr. Bertagnolli said. “Federal investment plays a key role in continuing progress—in rare and common cancers alike. We need to prioritize federal funding of cancer research in the years to come. Americans are counting on it.”

According to a recent ASCO survey,1 67% of Americans say the U.S. government should spend more money on finding treatments and cures for cancer, even if it means higher taxes or adding to the deficit.

To learn more about the Advance of the Year, ASCO’s Research Priorities, and other notable research advances, view the full report at or in the Journal of Clinical Oncology

© 2019. American Society of Clinical Oncology. All rights reserved.

DISCLOSURE: Clinical Cancer Advances 2019 is supported in part by ASCO’s Conquer Cancer Foundation.


1. ASCO: National Cancer Opinion Survey. Available at Accessed January 23, 2019.