Medical report warns of more cancer cases, fewer oncologists
Posted September 13, 2013
Durham, N.C. — Aging baby boomers are behind what a national report from the Institute of Medicine calls a crisis in cancer care. That generation represents a large post-World War II population boom between 1946 and 1964.
Of the 1.6 million new cancer cases diagnosed each year, those 65 and older account for a little more than half, the report found. By 2030, experts predict, there will be 2.3 million new cases a year. That's when the youngest baby boomers will be 66 years old.
The new North Carolina Cancer Hospital at UNC, which opened in 2009, and Duke University Hospital’s new cancer center, which opened last year, both boast more space and the latest in cancer treatment technology. However, there's one problem square footage and state of the art technology won't fix.
“The work force is shrinking. There are fewer oncologists projected to be in practice in the future. There are fewer geriatricians, fewer primary care providers,” said Dr. Harvey Cohen, who works in internal medicine at Duke.
Cohen served on the committee that helped draft the Institute of Medicine’s report, which warns about the rising costs of cancer care and the growing complexity of treatments. The quality of care may differ depending on where patients are treated.
“We need to make sure we're doing things that are truly needed for the care of the patient and not doing therapies that may be marginally effective or not effective at all,” Cohen said.
The committee recommends better communication among health care providers and between providers and their patients and the patients' families. They need to know what resources are available and how to weigh the costs and benefits of therapies with quality of life issues.
As for how to address the shrinking workforce in cancer care, the committee emphasized the need for new models of team-based care and coordinated care as a way to respond to work-force shortages and changes in the population.