ASTRO was founded November 18, 1958, as the American Club of Therapeutic Radiologists by 58 radiation therapists who were looking for representation of their specialty outside of the American College of Radiology (ACR), the Radiological Society of North American and the American Roentgen Ray Society. Membership rapidly grew, and in 1962, the American Club of Therapeutic Radiologists was officially incorporated in Colorado, with a membership of 250.
In 1966 the membership decided to change their name to the American Society for Therapeutic Radiologists (ASTR) and created the additional membership categories of corresponding and associate members. In 1968 and then again in 1970, the membership changed the bylaws to create an executive committee. In November of 1970, the Society held its first independent scientific meeting in Phoenix, and in 1976, the Society sponsored its official journal, the International Journal of Radiation Oncology•Biology•Physics. During the 1970s, ASTR experienced a rapid growth in membership claiming 1,400 members in 1979, including 100 associate members.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Society, which at that time was under the management of the ACR, fostered the development of technological breakthroughs by supporting inventors, providing a forum for new ideas and communicating achievements in technology to a wider medical audience. The Society and the members worked tirelessly during this period to introduce and popularize the new technologies that were emerging to treat cancer and other diseases with radiation.
In 1979, the Society began its first long-range plan, and in 1981, it developed its first five-year strategic plan. By the mid-1980s, the Society’s membership was up to 2,000, with two-thirds of the membership practicing in a clinical radiotherapy practice although 75 percent of members held at least part-time academic appointments.
In 1983, ASTR changed its name to ASTRO, the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology. It was at this point that the Society recognized the need to assist with continuing medical educational opportunities, so ASTRO began setting standards for the education of radiation therapy trainees. The Society also recognized the need to communicate the specialty’s goals and achievements to the general public. In 1986, the Society created its second five-year strategic plan. And the third five-year strategic plan was adopted in 1991.
In the 1990s, ASTRO saw a rapid growth in the membership, going from 3,500 members at the beginning of the decade to almost 6,000 members at the beginning of the 21st century. During this time, the Society began to increase its efforts to represent the interest of its members in the legislative and regulatory arenas. Issues of concern during this time were tax issues, compensation inequities and the regulation of radioactive medical waste. ASTRO also became involved in shaping the debate of this decade of the impact of health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and provider payment organizations (PPOs).
The 1990s also saw the Society increasing its efforts to communicate with its members. This was done through expanding its website and creating list serves and electronic newsgroups. In the late 1990s, ASTRO began its efforts to foster leadership growth within ASTRO by establishing a young members group to include individuals in their first five years of practice. The group is known as ARRO, the Association of Residents in Radiation Oncology.
In 1998, ASTRO became its own independently managed Society and moved out of ACR’s building in Reston, Va., to its first headquarters in Fairfax, Va. It was at this point that the Society refined their strategic plan and developed the Board of Directors. With the strategic shift put into motion, ASTRO increased involvement in socioeconomic issues, expanded efforts in the area of outcomes research and introduced a winter meeting to include a teaching course. The Society also decided to increase their communications with the membership and replaced the ASTRO Newsletter with the ASTROnews, a 20-page, four-color magazine.
From 2000 to the present, ASTRO has continued to grow and develop. As more patients receive radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer, and health care costs continue to increase, ASTRO has continued to grow its efforts in health policy and government relations, getting more involved with Medicare and Medicaid issues and physician reimbursement for the ever evolving technology.
In 2002, ASTRO was awarded full accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide CME to its members.
In April 2006, ASTRO moved its headquarters to 8280 Willow Oaks Corporate Drive in Fairfax, Va., to help with the growing staff size and to allow staff and visiting members better access to Washington. ASTRO continues to focus on issues of importance to its members, such as technology advances, treatment regimens, communications dissemination initiatives and newer issues such as the importance of radiobiology. ASTRO also continues to work with other medical organizations and specialties to share research and information that could someday lead to a cure for cancer.
At ASTRO's 50th Annual Meeting in Boston in September 2008, the membership took a vote and decided to change ASTRO's name to the American Society for Radiation Oncology while keeping the acronym ASTRO. It was decided that the term "therapeutic radiology" was outdated and confusing and that the new name would better reflect the specialty. The new name took effect in January 2009.
ASTRO's History Committee wrote a book to celebrate and chronicle the first 50 years of the organization. The book may purchased for $10.
Visit the history section of RT Answers for more information on the history of radiation therapy.