Cancer Care Demand May Cause Shortages

Cancer patients may face shortage of oncologists as cancer rates increase

(RxWiki News) Medicine is an ever-changing field, adapting to trends in illnesses, changes in technology and new research. A new report looked at how the area of cancer care may change in upcoming years.

This report examined the nature of cancer care in the US, including services like cancer prevention, cancer screening and cancer treatment.

The report found that while new cancer cases are expected to nearly double by 2030, the number of cancer physicians is not currently expected to keep up with this increased demand.

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Released by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the State of Cancer Care in America: 2014 report examined a variety of data sources to explore factors and trends that may affect US cancer care in years to come.

One of the report's key findings was that demand for cancer care is growing and is expected to continue to grow as the American population ages. By 2030, ASCO estimated that the number of new cancer cases in the US will increase by 45 percent.

As new cases develop, the number of cancer survivors also will grow from the 13.7 million now living in the US. ASCO noted that some of these survivors will need long-term cancer care.

Though ASCO projected a large jump in the number of cancer patients requiring care, the organization found evidence of a potential shortage in the availability of that care.

While projecting a 45 percent increase in new cancer cases by 2030, ASCO estimated only a 28 percent increase in the number of oncologists in the US. This disparity would amount to a possible shortage of 1,487 cancer doctors — doctors who see an average of 300 new patients a year — and an estimated 450,000 new patients who might have trouble accessing cancer care.

According to ASCO, this is due largely to an aging of the oncology workforce in the US — a workforce in which almost one out five cancer specialists is older than the age of 64 and likely nearing retirement.

ASCO also estimated that US costs for cancer care are expected to increase from around $104 billion in 2006 to over $173 billion in the year 2020 due to a number of factors, including expensive new treatments.

"Access to high-quality cancer care will be sustained and expanded only if we address these rising costs, including the use of unnecessary or ineffective tests and treatments," explained ASCO.

In a press release, Clifford A. Hudis, MD, president of ASCO, stressed the importance of this report's findings.

“We’re facing a collection of challenges, each one of which could keep cancer treatment advances out of reach for some individuals,” said Dr. Hudis. “Collectively, they are a serious threat to the nation’s cancer care system which already is straining to keep up with the needs of an aging population. Without immediate efforts to address these threats to oncology practices, we’re at real risk of failing tomorrow’s cancer patients.”

ASCO noted that cancer practices around the US have already begun adapting. For one, the use of non-physicians like advanced practice nurses seems to be increasing, which ASCO explains helps oncologists focus on the most critical areas.

More administrative changes may be developing as well.

"ASCO and many oncology practices are also exploring new healthcare payment and delivery models that reward high quality care, reduce administrative burden, and better compensate practices for the intensive services needed by patients with cancer," reported the organization.

ASCO also stressed the importance of governmental and policy changes to help make cancer care more affordable and accessible to US cancer patients.

This report was released March 11 and will be published in the Journal of Oncology Practice on March 15.

Review Date: 
March 11, 2014