The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) highlights the past year’s oncologic advances and identifies important areas for future research in its 2021 Report on Progress Against Cancer, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Molecular profiling in gastrointestinal (GI) cancers, which has allowed providers to improve patient outcomes by identifying the molecular and genetic signatures specific to a patient’s tumor and subsequently selecting the appropriate targeted intervention, was selected as ASCO’s Advance of the Year.

“This selection recognizes the treatment advances made possible by molecular testing for patients with GI cancers,” the 26-member expert committee said.

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ASCO also underscored additional advances that were particularly impactful in 2020, including biomarker-driven treatment approaches to other cancers such as lung and colorectal cancer; the progress made by administering targeted therapies to patients with earlier-stage disease; combinations of therapies that improve survival but do not increase toxicity; and the increasing availability of targeted interventions for patients with difficult-to-treat cancers.

The report also specified research priorities for 2021, which include the multifactorial response that is needed to achieve equity in cancer research. ASCO recognizes that individuals who are Black, situated in rural areas, have a lower income and education, or are otherwise underrepresented have higher mortality rates for multiple cancers.

“Disparities in cancer research is a complex, multifaceted issue requiring a multifactorial response,” the ASCO committee said. They noted that the response must address interrelated barriers to trial participation and structural and systemic challenges that may inhibit research that benefits underserved populations.

Additional research foci for 2021 include further optimizing multimodal treatment of solid tumors, bolstering precision medicine modalities for pediatric patients and rare cancers, improving care for older adults, predicting response and resistance to immunotherapies, identifying potentially malignant lesions earlier, reducing the effect of obesity on cancer incidence and outcomes, and developing and integrating artificial intelligence and deep learning into cancer research.

ASCO also acknowledged the importance of federal funding to cancer research, but noted that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic could direct focus away from cancer research funding. ASCO urged clinicians to contact members of Congress to ask them to support an increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Cancer Institute (NCI) through

Disclosures: Some of the study authors disclosed financial relationships with the pharmaceutical industry and/or the medical device industry. For a full list of disclosures, please refer to the original study.


Smith SM, Wachter K, Burris HA III, et al. clinical cancer advances 2021: ASCO’s report on progress against cancer. J Clin Oncol. Published online February 2, 2021. doi:10.1200/JCO.20.03420