Why You Should Attend a Cancer Conference

Patient Expert

Doctors and researchers gathered July 9-10 in Boston for the 5th International Inflammatory Breast Cancer Conference. Although the audience for the presentations was medical practitioners, I was privileged to be one of several patient-panelists invited to add a patient’s point of view to the scientific information.  Participating in the conference helped me on several levels.  I met other people interested in inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), I learned about new cancer research, and I received some practical tips to help me in my daily life.

I strongly recommend attending a cancer conference if you have a chance.  You can probably find opportunities near you. If cost is a barrier, many conferences offer scholarships that can help reduce expenses.

How to find a conference

Before you sign up, think about what you hope to gain from attending. Look for a conference that matches your goals for fellowship, medical knowledge, and/or new skills. Your oncologist’s office may have brochures about organizations that offer programs that will match your needs. A nurse navigator or local support group leader can also help you find something suitable.  Check websites for the cancer organizations you support. Let people know you are interested, and you may be surprised at how many opportunities arise.

Why go to a conference?

You will have the chance to meet others like yourself.  Cancer can be an isolating experience.  A conference offers opportunities for making connections.  If you are young or have a rare type of cancer, you may not have met other people who share your specific needs.  A conference focused on your age or ethnic group can provide a sense of community, and you can learn about the treatments for your unique cancer.

In Boston, I had several opportunities to share meals with other people with inflammatory breast cancer.  I met some people face to face whom I know well on line.  It was a joy to be with others who have also felt isolated.

You can add to your medical knowledge about your cancer. Patients who understand the basic biology of their cancer and its optimal treatments know the best questions to ask their doctors.  Conferences are a great way to learn about clinical trials, new treatments, and research into which of the old treatments still work best.

Before you go, find out who the target audience is.  I knew that this conference was designed for medical professionals, but because I have been to other conferences that have helped build up my basic understanding of cancer biology, I was up for the challenge. This meeting would have probably been overwhelming for people without some background in the topic.  Other conferences I have been to in the past were geared toward explaining medical information to a lay audience.

You can learn new skills and practical tips.  A big conference usually has quite a few break-out sessions, many of which are about topics useful in your daily life.  At a conference I went to last fall, I learned ideas to deal with the insomnia that so many breast cancer survivors experience.

Here are just a few organizations that offer conference opportunities.  In addition to these, your local hospital and cancer advocacy agencies may offer one-day seminars that you would find helpful.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer: This respected breast cancer organization works to connect breast cancer patients and survivors with conferences and educational programs.

Project LEAD®: This series of educational offerings from the National Breast Cancer Coalition teaches breast cancer advocates to be scientifically literate consumers of medical information.

San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium: This large breast cancer conference for medical professionals meets every December in San Antonio, Texas.  There are also opportunities for breast cancer advocates to attend. Metastatic Breast Cancer Network: People dealing with metastatic breast cancer may want to check out MBCN’s resources.  The fall conference moves around the country, and videos from the 2015 conference are available at the website.

Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE): FORCE has an annual conference for people who have hereditary cancers such as the BRCA mutations for breast cancer.

Sisters Network, Inc.: This national network of African American breast cancer advocates offers a chance to address unique challenges for black women with breast cancer.  In addition to a fall national conference, there are other opportunities for gatherings.

Young Survival: Young Survival has a three-day national conference plus one-day regional conferences geared toward young women with breast cancer.

See More Helpful Articles:

San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium 2014:  Get Help Understanding How the Research Affects You

Project LEAD®: Learning about Breast Cancer

Stage IV Needs More: Life with Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference


Phyllis Johnson is an inflammatory breast cancer survivor who serves on the Board of Directors for theInflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the oldest 501(3)(c) organization focused on research for IBC. She is a list monitor for an online support group atwww.ibcsupport.org. She stays current on cancer information through attendance at conferences such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD® Institute. A retired teacher, she has been writing about cancer issues at HealthCentral since 2007.

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