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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Cancer doctors will soon be in short supply

By Scott Allen, Globe Staff

The United States faces a looming shortage of cancer specialists by the year 2020 as aging Baby Boomers become increasingly cancer-prone and medical schools can't train enough new oncologists to keep up with them, according to a national survey released this afternoon.

The report from the American Society of Clinical Oncology forecasts a 48 percent increase in need for cancer treatment by 2020, while the number of oncologists will rise by only 14 percent, leaving a need for 2,550 to 4,080 more cancer specialists nationwide.

"This is a problem for the whole cancer care delivery system and everyone who is involved with it," said Dr. Michael Goldstein of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who chaired the society's Workforce in Oncology Task Force. "The whole work force is going to be challenged 10 to 15 years from now."

In a way, oncologists are victims of their own success. As cancer treatment has become more successful, deaths from cancer have begun to decline, leaving more people living with cancer -- and still needing care. In addition, more than half of oncologists are already at least 50 years old, raising the prospect of mass retirements in the decades ahead.

So far, the shortage of oncologists is little more than an inconvenience for the doctors who are seeing an increased workload, but Goldstein and other cancer specialists say action needs to be taken now because it takes so many years to train new physicians. The Society of Clinical Oncology is already developing recommendations to ease the coming shortage, such as delegating more care to nurses and other medical staff, persuading older oncologists to delay retirement, and reducing the paperwork that keeps doctors away from patients.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 06:07 PM
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