Once upon a time, ESTRO ....

The Founding fathers of ESTRO - Maurice Tubiana, Jerzy Einhorn, Klaas Breur, Michael Peckham, and notably Emmanuel van der Schueren in his role of Executive Secretary - began their task of building a new Society.

Their dream was, first, to establish Radiation Oncology as a specialty, independent from radiology. This would be achieved through ESTRO, an inclusive society with an interdisciplinary scientific platform expressed in its annual meetings, educational courses and journal.

The second part of their vision was to integrate Radiation Oncology as a driving force within the broader field of multidisciplinary oncology.

In the 1970’s: Radiotherapy a dying specialty?

When ESTRO’s founders began their discussions in the late 1970s, their dream was to establish Radiation Oncology or radiation therapy as a specialty distinct from radiology. At that time radiotherapy was largely marginalised as part of radiology, a specialty that was dominated by diagnostics.

There was also no specific education in Radiation Oncology, and some trainees were actively discouraged from specialising in radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy was considered a dying specialty because there was an enormous hope that new drugs will solve the problem of cancer.

The rise of radiation oncology

The introduction of new technologies was also beginning to spark interest in young doctors. More efficient linear accelerators were being introduced.

Computer systems were beginning to open the way to improved dosimetry and dose distribution, while the first computed tomography (CT) scanners were improving the accuracy of imaging.

ESTRO’s founders were among the minority of visionaries who had chosen to  specialise in the reviving discipline of Radiation Oncology.

Many were young people who had travelled within Europe and the USA, which as that time wasn’t so common.

Discussions begin

These young people also did not wish to emulate the separation of disciplines they had seen in North American oncology. Instead, their dream was to create a new model for Europe that would unite all the disciplines of Radiation Oncology - clinical, physics and biology.

At the Gray Conference in Oxford in September 1979, the decision was made to commit to the vision of the ‘Radiotherapy Society’ that became ESTRO.

The initial list of 80 potential members of the new society, compiled from personal contacts among the founders, grew to 300 by the time the founding meeting was held on 18-19 September 1980 at the National Cancer Institute in Milan.

During the meeting, London was chosen as the venue for the first ESTRO Annual Congress in 1982 with Michael Peckham as Chair of the Organising Committee. In elections for officers, Klaas Breur (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) was chosen as ESTRO’s first President, Jerzy Einhorn (Stockholm, Sweden) as President-Elect, and Emmanuel van der Schueren, a young radiation oncologist from Leuven, Belgium, was elected Executive Secretary.

As one of the major, if not main, driving forces in fulfilling the founders’ dream, Emmanuel van der Schueren epitomised ESTRO in the 1980s and 1990s.

A brilliant scientist and compassionate clinician, his wish was always to promote his inclusive, multidisciplinary philosophy both within the specialty of radiation oncology and also in the broader field of cancer to achieve the best outcomes for patients and their families. He had created the Belgian Society for Radiotherapy and was a member of the Groupe Européen de Radiothérapie in the late 1970s, when he became one of the founders of ESTRO. Serving first as Executive Secretary and as President (1989-1991), Emmanuel was also the first editor and founder of ESTRO’s official journal, Radiotherapy and Oncology or the ‘Green Journal’.

A successful scientific Society

By the time of the inaugural Annual Congress in London in 1982, the new ESTRO had 530 individual members, rising rapidly to nearly 1700 in 1999.

There were also early debates about the status of the disciplines within the new society. In ESTRO’s first statutes, physicists and biologists were given associate membership, but the founders were determined to realise their dream of integrating scientific research and clinical practice within the new Society.

Radiotherapy technicians, members of the fourth pillar of ESTRO’s interdisciplinary platform, were integrated as affiliated members in 1994, and were granted full membership in 2000.

The scientific platform

Meetings

In envisaging an annual congress for ESTRO, the founders’ aim was to organise a meeting of high scientific quality that would encompass all disciplines in the radiation oncology team and supporters among industry.

ESTRO’s first Annual Congress in London in 1982 set the pattern for its subsequent congresses, attracting around 500 delegates.

ESTRO’s first Congress strongly influenced the Society’s approach to all subsequent Annual Congresses.

ESTRO’s philosophy was, and continues to be, that the meeting should integrate clinical and basic research of the three essential disciplines in Radiation Oncology.

Education

The lack of dedicated training in Radiation Oncology in many parts of Europe made education and training in Radiation Oncology an essential first priority for ESTRO’s founders. The Education and Training Committee, chaired by Jens Overgaard, was established in 1985 during the Stockholm Congress.

The first ESTRO course—a physics teaching course beginning in Leuven in 1985—was inspired by research from physicists Andrée Dutreix (Paris, France), Ben Mijnheer (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) and Hans Svensson (Umea, Sweden) demonstrating highly variable standards among Radiation Oncology centres.

The physics course was a great success, and formed the first foundations for the highly regarded ESTRO School. By 1990, four courses, including courses on radiobiology and brachytherapy, followed the same modular format. Originally courses were delivered centrally, but in 1990 the Education and Training Committee decided to adopt the School’s current practice of holding courses throughout Europe.

The journal

In the early 1980s, there were only two international journals in radiation oncology. So the founders’ third key priority was to give a voice to the new specialty with Radiotherapy and Oncology, ESTRO’s official journal.

The ‘Green Journal’ began publication in August 1983 with Emmanuel van der Schueren as its first Editor. As ESTRO’s official journal, Radiotherapy and Oncology was sent to members as part of their subscription.

Under Emmanuel’s leadership, the European journal rapidly joined its US counterpart as one of the two leading journals in the field of Radiation Oncology.

Firm foundations

By ESTRO’s 10th anniversary, the founders were indeed well on the way to realising their dream.

Radiation Oncology was soon to receive formal recognition as an independent specialty.

And by building a distinctive, interdisciplinary platform for the new scientific society, the founders had laid firm foundations for ESTRO’s continuing success and the integration of the specialty as a strong partner in multidisciplinary oncology for the next decades.

The future will provide many challenges for radiation oncology, but first and foremost ESTRO will remain a society committed to the dissemination of science throughout Europe and beyond.