BC Cancer Conference report

I spent part of Thursday and most of Friday at the BC Cancer conference held down town Vancouver at the Westin Bayshort.  I’ve gone a few times before, but I don’t recall blogging about it much.  This year, I thought I’d make a concerted effort to take a few notes and write at least one blog entry about it.

Unfortunately, this year was the least useful to me in terms of knowledge transfer. There seemed to have been a significant shift from the previous years’ emphasis on research and knowledge transfer to what appears to be “how to be a better clinician”.  Of course, those of us in research more or less found the event to be a waste of time – in so many ways.  Yes, this post isn’t going to be a glowing recommendation of the conference.

First, it’s incredibly shameful for any conference to have zero wireless support.  No tweets, no blogs, no communication, and not even the ability to access the internet.  The only concession to modern technology was a quiet room with 5 laptops hooked up to the interet.  Unfortunately, they were all equiped with Windows 7 and French keyboards.  No one was able to spend long using them – not because the demand was high, but because the trackpads didn’t work well, and typing was next to impossible.  One woman soundly declared that the 4 emails she’d managed to send in one hour was the least productive hour of her life.

Ok, But on to the conference talks.  There were some amusing points that provided some comic relief.  One of my favourites was a woman who did an entire presentation in comic sans font, which instantly made it hard to focus on her message.  The problem was further compounded by her inability to provide labels on the axes of her graphs.  That was the point at which I pulled out a paper from my bag and worked on something more relevant.

The speaker before her also piqued my funny bone by using the abreviation “FU” on his talk all over the place.  I thought the only place “FU” was acceptable in science talks was for 5FU (a drug called 5 flourouracil.)  However, eventually he explained it was his short form for “follow up”.  Personally, I’d have gone with the full word.

Yes, that was childish humour.  However, there was also humour for those who have a more mature sense of humour.

The best line of the day came after Dr. Sam Apparicio gave his talk on how we’re learning to identify the molecular characteristics of each cancer – and that personalised medicine is only a few years off.  His point was that next-generation sequencing is already here and the only real barrier to getting this to the clinic is our understanding of the mechanisms.    One of the better talks really.

Alas, the speaker who went next started her presentation with a line that was something like “Unlike Dr. Apparicio, I’d like bring this back to the real world.”  She then proceeded to tell us that the only features about breast cancer we should care about are ER/PR/Her2/TP53 statuses.  Way to dismiss some brilliant research with an off handed comment.

It wasn’t long after that talk when we started to get the slide shows that began with the disclosure that the research was sponsored by the drug companies.   Some of it was good work, but I walked out with the distinct impression that pharma sponsored research isn’t all that unbiased.  Go figure.

Another talk that followed in this chain was a great investigation of the despair felt by workers in the post-industrial revolution who become a single cog in the great wheel of progress.  Apparently, this applies to the support staff in cancer centres – and someone decided they shouldn’t just fix the problem, but rather should study it.  Frankly, every single thing they said could have been said about a study in 1850 Scotland about the workers in a shipbuilding plant.

At the end of the day, the failure to recognise history repeating itself was disturbing, but not as much as the conclusion that nurses should be given a greater say in patient treatment.  Frankly, we train oncologists to make difficult decisions based on informed opinion – and everyone should be allowed to input into the project, but at the end of the day, the oncologist is the one with the training. If the nurse wants to direct patient therapy, maybe they should go to school and become an oncologist!  (Did I miss something?)

Then there was the talk I missed on complimentary alternative medicine.  Thank goodness I missed it!  I just heard the end of the questions, which culminated in one of the speakers claiming that if evidence is hard to obtain for alternative medicines, we shouldn’t need to collect it.   Wow.  Who invited this person?

Finally, I spent some time in a sponsored talk which taught me two things: One is that “nonadherance [to a treatment therapy] is a function of your belief of fate over medicine”, which I take to be a pretty damning charge against the claim that faith/religion has no real harm.   The second was that there are people who have no concept of what an addiction is:  Included in the same category were HIV, asthama, gambling and drinking.  Wow… just wow.

Overall, I’d have to say that this conference has gone downhill rapidly – someone has decided to let in the cranks and jokers, and that it’s becoming harder and harder to tell the difference.

If you think that there were no highlights, I’d have to say there were a few really good talks.   Drs. Sam Aparicio and Marco Marra each gave fantastic talks, as did a few others, such as Ian Bosdet and Torsten Nielsen, and the Awards Dinner was one of the highlights of the conference.

However, I’m counting my lucky stars that I won’t be at next years conference.

A few more random amusements:

One of the complimenatary medicine people billed themselves as John Doe, BSc, PhD (c).  I’ve changed the name for obvious reasons, but the hillarity still remains – we think he was trying to impress people with his PhD candidate-ness.  We had a few more suggestions: PhD (a) and PhD (t)  were my two favorite, which indicate you’re almost there (a) or just thinking about doing one (t).  Personally, I think that you should never give yourself a title you don’t have, but I guess that’s not something alternative medicine students would agree with.

And, my own new personal rule: If you need a laser pointer, your slide is just too complicated or you just don’t know how to discuss its contents well.  The corollary is that slides with only three items on it do NOT need you to wave a laser at it.  Really, give the audience some credit for being able to follow what’s on the slide!

Ok, now I’m really done.  With no wifi all week, I was unable to vent all that – and now here it is in one big blob….er blog. (=  Cheers.

4 thoughts on “BC Cancer Conference report

  1. Yeah, it’s definitely been getting more clinical in focus (although there are usually some great research posters). I didn’t go this year, because I’m working much less with the agency’s clinicians than in previous years, and also because I was trying to catch up after a week off.

    One does indeed need to be careful how one abbreviates “followup”. Especially in conjunction with “analysis”. I once almost LOLed in a meeting when I spotted how I’d jotted down “follow up analysis” in the minutes…

    The alternative medicine talks sound very vexing indeed. I like PhD (a) and PhD (t). Do you think if I style myself as MD (i) PhD, they’ll let me treat patients with my imaginary medical degree?

    And finally… I would love to know who made the “real world” comment. If you can’t say publicly, I’d appreciate a Twitter DM :)

    • I forgot to mention my mini-anecdote about the time I went to a computer conference in Toronto – Way back when my job title was “Programmer/Analyst”. Unfortunately, they only had 15 characters for the field on the name tag, which they didn’t tell us as we were filling in the information cards.

      Unfortunately, I had to wear that tag all day and show it to all of the vendors who would swipe it to get your contact info. There were many silly grins, every time someone would look at it.

      In hindsight, it did make a great conversation piece, tho.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement, Anthony, although I suspect that I simply benefited from 15min being too short to bore anyone. Explaining molecular techniques at a non-scientist level, and in such a short time, was a more challenging assignment than I anticipated.

    And your pointed point about the pointer is taken. I need to give up my crutch. :)

    • Hi Ian,

      Thanks for the comment! Actually, your presentation was pretty good – I wouldn’t have even minded if it went on a little longer. (= As for the laser pointer, you weren’t anywhere near the worst offender with it, so feel free to ignore that bit of advice.

      Finally, There’s really only so much you can do to make molecular biology/techniques exciting for non-biologists. I thought you pulled it off rather well!

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