We baby boomers are in for a lot of shocks over the next years. One surprise might be too few cancer specialists to take care of us.
An article in the March 2007 issue of the Journal of Oncology Practice predicts that there will be between 2500 to 4000 too few medical oncologists by the year 2020. The problems swirl around the fact that training programs are not expanding, the U.S. population is aging, and older individuals develop most new cancers.
Another issue is the increasing number of cancer survivors. The United States currently has about 10 million cancer survivors, a number that is expected to double over the next 15 years.
What can be done? Oncology training programs could increase the number of new oncologists, but even that would not cover the expected demand. Nurse practitioners will see more and more patients. Many cancer survivors will get their follow-up from primary physicians.
Personally, I regularly encourage medical students to consider careers in cancer specialties. I tell them that cancer physicians assume demanding, rewarding and critically needed roles. Of course, knowing that the lifetime cancer risk is one-third for women and nearly one-half for men, there is a significant probability that I, too, will need a great cancer doctor myself someday.