Oncologist Shortage Could Put Cancer Care in Critical Condition by 2025

Mar 20, 2014, 12:00 PM

Nearly 450,000 new cancer patients are likely to have difficulty accessing oncology care in just over a decade, according to a report, “The State of Cancer Care in America: 2014,” released this month by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

The report is described by ASCO as the first-ever comprehensive assessment of challenges facing the U.S. cancer care system. It projects that new cancer cases could increase by 42 percent by 2025, but the number of oncologists will likely grow by only 28 percent, creating a deficit of nearly 1,500 physicians.

“We’re facing a collection of challenges, each one of which could keep cancer treatment advances out of reach for some individuals,” ASCO President Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, said in a news release. “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.”

An aging oncology workforce and impending wave of retirements are partly driving the projected shortfall, the report says, pointing out that nearly one in five cancer specialists is over 64. The report also expresses concern about the survival of smaller independent practices, especially in rural communities.

Promising trends described in the report include oncology practices that are increasing the use of advanced practice nurses and other non-physician providers; and new health care 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.

Read “The State of Cancer Care in America: 2014” in the Journal of Oncology Practice.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.