World Cancer Day: The AACR Supports Globalized Cancer Research Throughout the Pandemic

Editor’s note: Thursday, Feb. 4, marks World Cancer Day, an annual initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control. While the world’s focus turned to the COVID-19 pandemic this past year, cancer remains the second leading cause of death globally (after heart disease), accounting for more than 9.6 million deaths per year. The pandemic forced many changes in hospitals and research labs around the world, yet the cancer research community remains united in the goal of reducing the staggering global burden of this disease.

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is proud to support World Cancer Day. Read on to learn how the AACR’s international programming has continued to provide opportunities for cancer researchers in all corners of the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic provoked significant challenges to the global research communities working to defeat cancer, an array of diseases responsible for 18.1 million diagnoses and 9.6 million deaths each year.

turkey cancer center
Image courtesy of the Union for International Cancer Control.

Throughout the pandemic, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has continued to marshal the full spectrum of expertise of the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. Amplified by its global reach, the AACR fosters research in cancer and related biomedical science, accelerating the dissemination of new research findings among scientists and others dedicated to the conquest of cancer; promoting science education and training; and advancing the understanding of cancer etiology, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment throughout the world. 

Founded in 1907 and serving a diverse and transnational membership of laboratory, translational, and clinical researchers; other health care professionals; and cancer advocates, the AACR is the world’s first and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research leading to the prevention and cure of cancer. The AACR has more than 47,000 members in 127 countries and territories around the world; over 31 percent of AACR members live outside the United States. Twenty percent of AACR’s international members are located in countries with emerging economies.

The AACR is a globally recognized convenor of all major stakeholders in the field, and our capacity to unite these sectors became clear when the AACR Annual Meeting 2020 shifted to a virtual format. The meeting drew an unprecedented 64,000 attendees for the first part of the meeting, held in April, and 24 percent of them were from outside the United States. For the second part of the meeting, held in May, international attendees represented 42 percent of the total. Remarkably, 62 percent of presenters at the AACR Virtual Annual Meeting were from outside the United States.

Shortly after the Annual Meeting, the AACR convened the AACR COVID-19 and Cancer meeting, at which 19 percent of attendees were international. The AACR created a Twitter resource—#AACRCovid—to share information and opportunities for global connectivity and to follow innovations in the care and treatment of cancer patients who have contracted COVID-19.  

The negative impact of the pandemic on cancer research is measurably greater in low- and middle-income countries with limited resources, poor infrastructure, shortage of health care providers and organized care teams, scarcity of medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE), and poor access to technology. Throughout 2020, the AACR adapted and amplified its efforts to include and engage our colleagues in low- and middle-income countries in its offerings.

Despite travel restrictions, we welcomed to the 2020 AACR Virtual Annual Meetings AACR Global Scholar-In-Training Awards (GSITA) recipients.  Selected through a rigorous peer-review process conducted by AACR member leaders from the AACR International Affairs Committee and Regional Advisory Groups, 14 promising young researchers from low- and middle-income countries virtually presented their research, drew upon the global brain trust of cancer scientists attending our Virtual Annual Meetings, and participated in virtual networking and mentorship gatherings. The awardees, who represented Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, the Gambia, India, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Turkey, shared their experiences in a blog post.

Also in 2020, the AACR entered a partnership with the Sociedade Brasileira de Oncologia Clínica (SBOC) to develop a two-day congress titled “SBOC-AACR Joint Congress: A Translational Approach to Clinical Oncology.” Founded in 1981, SBOC is a national nonprofit organization representing clinical oncologists in Brazil and is dedicated to the provision of training and research, continuing education, health policies, professional development, and national and international relations.

Due to the pandemic, our joint congress was held virtually from October 30-31, 2020, from SBOC headquarters in São Paulo, Brazil. With more than 1,000 registered participants from throughout Brazil and other nations, this landmark event brought together basic cancer researchers and clinicians to share scientific advancements and discuss how fundamental and translational science have become essential to the success of clinical oncologists.

As we look to continuing our efforts to defeat cancer during the pandemic, we recognize that the global health crisis has afforded unique learning opportunities: Virtual scientific events can and do serve to advance global collaboration. They enable us to gather in a new way, and work together to further the shared mission of global cancer research and clinical oncology communities. 

Virtual offerings notably permit scientists with fewer resources available for travel to join scientific conversations and provide their unique perspectives. The pandemic-driven reliance on virtual meetings has also prompted institutions in some low- and middle-income countries to strengthen online learning options and invest in improving internet connectivity, especially in rural areas.  

We look forward to continuing to develop AACR programs, activities, and initiatives that will foster cancer research worldwide, and ultimately, help improve patient treatment and care despite the challenges of COVID-19. 

Of particular and immediate relevance to our global work during the pandemic is the AACR Virtual Meeting: COVID-19 and Cancer, taking place Feb. 3-5, 2021. In honor of World Cancer Day, a panel discussion on continuity of care during the COVID-19 pandemic, featuring several international experts, has been made freely available. Here’s a link to the session, which can also be viewed below.

Also, registration is open for the 2021 AACR Annual Meeting, which will be convened in a virtual format April 10-15 and May 17-21, 2021. The GSITA program mentioned above will also be held during this Annual Meeting.

It is our sincere hope that you will attend and share this information with colleagues as we collectively endeavor—despite continuing COVID-19 challenges—to stem the tide of cancer worldwide by promoting innovative programs, strategies, and initiatives for cancer researchers and all those engaged in cancer-related biomedical sciences around the world.