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The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair
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Celebrating Two Important Numbers

September 23, 2016 - One week ago, standing on the Plenary II stage at our semi-annual meeting, I announced two big numbers. The first was no surprise: 60. It is, of course, SWOG’s 60th anniversary. In Chicago, to celebrate, we ate cake and drank champagne – and in some corners, sake, thanks to a GU trial kickoff. We shared our stories in hallways and conference rooms, and even for the StoryCorps oral history project. We snapped selfies. We took in an interactive history exhibit, and in the translational medicine keynote, heard how today’s science is transforming tomorrow’s trials. And we talked about how to make our future even brighter, posting personal notes on our 60th anniversary “wish wall” and offering suggestions for improving our work to Andrea Denicoff and Drs. Jeff Abrams and Sheila Prindiville from the National Cancer Institute.

The other big number was 2 million. More than 2 million, really. That’s the number of years of human life that SWOG trials have saved. What an honor and a joy it was to tell you, our members and supporters, just how your work with SWOG has made a difference. Thanks to a sophisticated model developed by SWOG Statistician Joe Unger, we can say that we’ve given back more 2 million years of life to people with cancer. This is an accomplishment worthy of celebration. And in Chicago, we did.

Joe spent the better part of the summer trying to find out how many years of life SWOG trials have saved. He analyzed 205 randomized Phase III SWOG trials and whittled them down to 23 – ones that found, in the experimental arm, an overall survival benefit of at least five years. These 23 trials enrolled 12,361 patients from 1965-2012, and tested treatments for a range of cancers, including tumors of the bladder, breast, cervix, colon, stomach, kidney, lung, prostate, and ovaries, as well as leukemias. Next, Joe calculated life years gained by modeling the difference between patients’ average lifespan under the old treatment compared to the new treatment. He mapped the impact onto the U.S. population and, no matter how he sliced the data, no matter how he switched up the survival curve, he always came up with at least 2 million years of life saved – and as many as 3.3 million years. Look for Joe’s work in a journal soon – and expect his work to expand. Dr. Abrams liked the statistic so much, Joe and I will be talking to the other groups in the National Clinical Trials Network about crunching numbers to determine life years saved for all network research. Way to go, Joe!

One man brought those numbers to life. Craig Blanford, a father of three from Texas, was the final Plenary II speaker. He spoke from the heart – about his fear after being diagnosed with Stage 3 bladder cancer, his grief at believing he’d lose his bladder and his independence, his worry about what would happen to his wife, Amy, and his kids. Luckily, he met Dr. Ian Thompson from University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Ian treated him with BCG, the immunotherapy for bladder cancer pioneered by SWOG, and six years later, Craig has watched his son graduate from high school and taught his daughter how to drive. He still volunteers at the San Antonio rodeo with Amy, and still coaches Washington Nationals baseball. He called SWOG researchers heroes, and he cried – and got everyone in the audience crying, too. (Except C.D. Blanke. Too tough. Did have a sudden allergic reaction on the podium causing tearing, however). Craig got a standing ovation.

If you couldn’t be there for the plenary, or the rest of our Chicago celebration, visit The Hope Foundation website

to read highlights, see photos, watch the video, and even scroll through the special 60th commemorative program book. Thank you for making this meeting so memorable, and our work so meaningful. I hope lots more big numbers are coming.

 
     
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