The American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting began in 1964 as a group of 51 physicians finalizing the bylaws of the organization—and has since turned into a much-anticipated global event that brings together 35,000 to 40,000 people across all areas of oncology. 

“Big trees begin as tiny acorns,” said John Laszlo, an early childhood leukemia researcher, professor emeritus at Duke University Medical Center, and a retired national vice president for research at the American Cancer Society. 

Laszlo attended one of the first ASCO annual meetings in the 1960s. The first scientific meeting was in 1965, and according to ASCO Connection, that gathering included a 1.5 hour-long program with three presentations on leukemia and multiple myeloma. 

“No one predicted that a small group of oncologists could spark a movement the size of the current membership of ASCO,” Laszlo said. 

The Cancer History Project asked people who have played a role in oncology—fellows, cancer center directors, lawyers, pharmaceutical executives, CEOs, past ASCO presidents, and one journalist—to share their memories from their first ever annual meeting experience. 

The questions: 

  • When was your first ASCO? 
  • What was a highlight from your first ASCO?
  • Most memorable ASCO moment?
  • Most star-struck moment?
  • How has it changed?

Like Laszlo, attendees of these early meetings remarked on how large the annual meeting has become. 

Reminiscences from 30 conference attendees from the 1960s to 2020 are available below, in The Cancer Letter.