Last month, we created a formal working group for palliative and end of life care research and education, a group that will operate as part of the survivorship committee. It’s the first step in potentially creating a new committee focused on these areas within SWOG. This is a major addition for us. Not only will our clinical trials seek to create healthier, longer lives – we will look at other important issues, even including better deaths – for people with cancer.

We’re searching now for working group leadership, one or two people to shape our strategy and launch our first projects in palliative care. This working group will also recommend how to best incorporate this new line of research into SWOG’s structure. Stand-alone committee? Part of the survivorship portfolio? Or symptom control and quality of life? It’s still to be decided.

But one thing is clear: Members want SWOG to move in this direction.

Last year, we convened a palliative care task force that would gauge member interest in researching end-of-life issues such as symptom control and pain management, psychological and social issues such as depression and financial distress, and major care issues such as hospice and advanced directives.

Drs. Frank Meyskens and Mark O’Rourke ably led the palliative care task force and put on a standing-room-only symposium at our San Francisco meeting. The task force also surveyed members, and 582 responded. An overwhelming majority – 86 percent – said they wanted SWOG to pursue end-of-life research.

Here are other key survey results:

  • Members think SWOG can make the most impact by studying – in this order – pain control, fatigue, depression, neurocognitive function, advanced care planning, and economic distress.
  • Members think we can make an impact through clinical, observational, and comparative effectiveness studies.
  • Only 54 percent of members felt they were qualified to review advanced directives with patients – yet 100 percent reported receiving advanced directives training.
  • A big majority – again, 86 percent – think palliative care research should be embedded into an existing SWOG research committee.

The survey, and symposium, aren’t the only measures of support for end-of-life research at SWOG. I’ve received dozens of calls, emails, and comments at group meetings and conferences in favor of the move. And my leadership team wants to include this in our January grant renewal for the NCI’s National Clinical Trials Network. If you have more thoughts about this new direction, please share them with me! I’m excited to start this new chapter for our group.

Abstracts are coming due for the ASCO GI Cancers Symposium. Please send yours to SWOG Publications Manager Pat Arlauskas for processing no later than Sept. 13.