5 Takeaways From the NCCN Annual Conference

April 8, 2016

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN)'s annual conference has traditionally been a platform for NCCN’s Guideline updates. This year's meeting saw much more, with discussions on palliative care, biosimilars, and value in cancer care.

The annual conference of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) has traditionally been a platform for NCCN’s Guideline updates. The meeting’s trajectory has been changing of late—this year, in addition to Guideline updates, sessions also covered palliative care, value in cancer care, biosimilars, and the role of politics of cancer care. Here's a glimpse into some of the discussions at this year's meeting:

1. A panel discussion on palliative care opened up the first day of the conference. The session was moderated by Toby C. Campbell, MD, MSCI, a palliative care oncologist, who was joined by another palliative care expert Maria Dans, MD; a social worker, Sophia Smith, PhD, MSW; and a palliative care nurse, Carri Siedlik, APRN, ACHPN. The panel also had a family member advocate, Shirin Malekpour, PhD. Panel members discussed important issues such as consideration of the patient’s goals and values, early introduction of palliation, shared decision-making, and palliative care being a team effort.

2. In his interview with The American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC), Toby C. Campbell, MD, MSCI, associate professor of medicine, hematology-oncology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and chief of Palliative Care and program director of the Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship Training Program, said, “It’s really clear that if you want to deliver high-quality cancer care, that includes not only the traditional components like good oncology and radiology and surgery and imaging, but also palliative care.” He also emphasized the importance of a multi-disciplinary team-based approach for efficient palliative care.

3. Treatment options for melanoma have seen a lot of progress in recent years, and at NCCN, an expert in the field, John A. Thompson, MD, who has joint appointments at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, presented an update on where the field stands today. Encouraging results have been seen with the immunotherapy checkpoint inhibitors PD-1 and PD-L1, as well as with oncolytic viruses. “Immunotherapies as well as targeted therapies are offering better outcomes. I believe we need to assess the patient and their ability to bear toxicity, as well as their ease of access to a clinic. This should decide the intensity of their therapeutic intervention,” Thompson said during his presentation.

4. Lee Schwartzberg, MD, FACP, chief of Division of Hematology Oncology and professor of medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, was chosen to update the audience on the management of breast cancer in older women who were diagnosed at an early age. “One of the things we’re paying attention to now, as women age, is additional adjuvant-endocrine therapy, including 10 years of therapy. And there is data to support giving 5 years of an aromatase inhibitor after 5 years of tamoxifen,” Schwartzberg said in an interview with AJMC.

5. Value frameworks penetrated healthcare discussions in 2015, and they continue to draw attention this year as well. To educate meeting attendees on how the NCCN develops its own framework called the NCCN Evidence Blocks, Robert Carlson, MD, chief executive officer of NCCN, took to the stage. Carlson emphasized the fact that there is no “one size fits all” approach to cancer care: while a younger patient might want the most effective treatment despite the side effects, an older patient might be more concerned with the impact of treatment on quality of life. Others might be more concerned with affordability. “Value in oncology care today is a very important topic because the effectiveness of therapies but also because of the cost—both to society and to the individual patient—of the individual therapies,” Carlson said in an interview with AJMC.

You can access additional conference coverage here.