U.S. to face oncologist shortage

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A report in the Journal of Oncology Practice predicts that the United States may very well suffer a dangerous shortage of cancer doctors over the next two decades. The predicted shortage will see the industry down some 4,000 doctors below what it needs by the year 2020.

The causes are an aging population and more cancer survivors, while simultaneously many cancer doctors will retire themselves.

"The graying of America will result in substantial increase in demand for cancer care," said Dean Bajorin, MD, an oncologist with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and co-chairman of the American Society for Clinical Oncology's (ASCO) Workforce Implementation Working Group. "This is a looming crisis that already needs to be addressed prospectively."

Given that cancer is largely a disease found in older populations, this poses a problem as the number of Americans aged 65 and older is forecast to double from 2000 and 2030. Estimates show that around 1.4 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in 2007 while over 560,000 will likely die from the disease.

Currently there is a balance between cancer patients and specialists, but that will change in coming years, according to the report.

"In 2003, it was apparent that oncologists' workload was increasing and we were having problems locating medical oncologists to hire for academic or community practices," said Michael Goldstein, MD, a cancer specialist with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and chairman of the ASCO Workforce in Oncology Task Force.

Edward Salsberg, director of the Association of American Medical Colleges' Center for Workforce Studies, added that "The bottom line is no matter which scenario we looked at, it is likely that we'll be facing a shortage."