Cancer Prevention Matters
In 2008, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) reported that the United States would face a shortage of cancer specialists (oncologists) by the year 2020. This shortage would result from a decrease in the actual number of practitioners oncologists are approaching retirement faster than new doctors are being trained as well as an increase in the number of people requiring cancer treatment or observation.
Our aging population, a greater number of cancer survivors, and growing treatment options for advanced cancers increase the demand for trained specialists. To support the shortage prediction, the ASCO report provided a detailed breakdown of the number of oncologists and the number of patients with a history of cancer by state. In addition, the report offered potential solutions to increase the number of providers and reduce the impact of the shortage
Shift the care of five-year cancer survivors from their oncologists to their primary care physicians.
Increase the roles of non-physician providers such as nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and pharmacists in cancer care.
Increase the number of women and under-represented ethnic groups who train as oncologists.
Noteably, there is a lack of attention to cancer prevention as a strategy to address both the impending shortage of cancer specialists and the increase of cancer in the population. Prevention strategies from changes in the behaviors of healthcare providers and patients to new and improved government regulations regarding safety and the environment have effectively reduced the number of cancer cases.
For example, between 1948 and 1952, we saw these strategies reduce the incidence of scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps drop by 95%. How did this happen?
Healthcare providers educated patients about the health benefits of bathing after working in chimneys.
Chimney sweeps began wearing protective clothing.
Government regulations established a minimum age for chimney sweeps and supported alternative home heating options
There are numerous examples of successful cancer prevention programs that combine behavior change with government-backed safety and environmental protection measures. Over the next several months, we will review some of these programs to illustrate the importance of prevention in addressing the projected cancer specialist shortage.
Next month Breast Cancer Prevention