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ESO was founded by Umberto Veronesi and Laudomia Del Drago in 1982, with the aim of contributing to the reduction of deaths from cancer due to late diagnosis and/or inadequate treatment. 

Leading oncologists from around the world played a key role in founding of the School. They include Sir Michael Peckham, then a UK-based international leader in radiotherapy, best known for pioneering the technique of mantle field radiation; Franco Cavalli, a Swiss haematologist who led efforts to develop medical oncology as a recognised discipline in Europe, and was a founder member of the European Society for Medical Oncology; Louis Denis a urologist from Antwerp, who had been instrumental in setting up the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer; and Bob Pinedo, who at the time was co-editing Cancer Chemotherapy with Bruce Chabner, deputy director of the US National Cancer Institute, and was practising translational research at his Utrecht base in the Netherlands long before there was a word for it. 

Now, after more than 38 years, ESO is the oldest and most structured organisation exclusively dedicated to increasing the knowledge of health professionals in all fields of cancer medicine, under the auspices of an international scientific committee and advisory board.

The School's partners, staff - more than 50 people based at offices in Milan and Bellinzona - and supporters all over the world, including more than 1000 lecturers and experts and more than 20,000 alumni, continue to be crucial to the success of ESO.

A more detailed history of ESO’s first 30 years can be found in Learning to Care: ESO at 30, which can be downloaded as a pdf here (7.5MB).