American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

From the Director's Desk

A National Message of Hope, Caution, and a Call for Action?

Heidi Nelson, MD, FACSHeidi Nelson, MD, FACS
Medical Director, ACS Cancer Programs

National Cancer Institute (NCI) Director Norman E. Sharpless, MD, delivered this year's Martin Memorial Lecture during the virtual American College of Surgeons (ACS) Clinical Congress 2020; registration is free and the presentation is well worth the 30-minute investment. In his presentation, Dr. Sharpless reported on how he sees the pandemic impacting cancer care and cancer research. Further, he detailed the role of the NCI in efforts to curtail the pandemic and support the cancer research community.

The good news is that NCI has introduced programmatic flexibilities that will support grantees during the pandemic by extending application deadlines, and by permitting the carryover of institutional training grants and the use of NCI grant funds to maintain salaries and benefits. Dr. Sharpless was optimistic that the funding payline could reach 15 percentile by 2025, and that Cancer Grand Challenges and global collaborations would bring about further cancer gains similar to those witnessed over the last decade. He was hopeful that reducing unnecessary tests and clinic visits, coupled with the introduction of telehealth solutions, could keep cancer trials moving forward safely and effectively. But he was less optimistic about how cancer patients will fare over the next ten years.

Dr. Sharpless shared information from his recent Science editorial which graphically depicts the excess deaths in colon and breast cancer that are projected to extend for at least the next ten years. These estimates were calculated using contemporary data that show staggering declines in cancer screening, early diagnosis, and treatment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCI has rolled up its sleeves and done its part in helping with the pandemic by engaging in the work of validating serologic COVID-19 tests and launching a longitudinal cohort study of COVID-19 in people with cancer. By the end of Dr. Sharpless’ presentation, it felt like he was extending to us a call for action and as a vital part of the cancer care community, there is little doubt that we will heed the call. It is time for us to define our role and do what we can to reverse the trends and foil the forecasts. We can do this.