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Cancer expected to become leading cause of death

Although most cancers are preventable, the American Society of Clinical Oncology argues that in sixteen years it’s likely cancer will become the leading cause of death in the United States, surpassing the current number one killer- heart disease. The rise in deaths, according to experts, could be the result of an increase in what a new report calls “new cancer cases” which are expected to rise to nearly 45% by 2030, from 1.6 million cases to 2.3 million cases annually.

But new cancer cases may not actually lead to more deaths. Medical experts note many of the deaths may be preventable, but with the growing burden on the medical field, which already suffers from a lack of doctors and funds to treat patients, getting proper care for cancer will be difficult in the future.

This influx of new patients will place a bigger burden on a field of medicine already stretched by physician shortages and financial difficulties, says the report, which highlights growing problems for cancer care in the United States.

Medical care for cancer shrinks


Medical care shortages are nothing new but have been exacerbated in the last few years as doctors have had to merge together in national networks where a group or community of doctors works together. This arrangement allows more doctors to have access to expensive new technologies and receive group discounts on cancer drugs, but they also have to share their profits with the network, causing their share of profits to decrease.

But the practice will continue. In fact, according to a recent survey of oncology doctors, “Nearly two-thirds of the small oncology practices surveyed said they were likely to merge, sell or close in the upcoming year, according to the oncology group's inaugural report.”

How will the cancer patients be affected? Longer wait times to see doctors, local practices will disappear and more patients will have to drive further and pay more to find doctors who can offer them care.

Effective cancer treatments means more patients


Not only are doctors merging with other doctors, medical experts also note care is strained by the sheer number of cancer survivors. For instance, now, unlike fifty years ago, more and more Americans are living up to five years following a cancer diagnosis. The number is significantly higher than numbers from even the 1970s.

But cancer survivors will continue to need continued medical treatments and may be more susceptible to other severe medical conditions such as heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and other types of cancers.

Finally, the demand for cancer treatment is also likely to increase given the new ability for millions of Americans to have access to treatment through the Affordable Care Act. Experts believe the need for cancer treatments and services could increase by 42% by 2030. Unfortunately this demand will far exceed the number of new oncologists, which is likely to grow at a measly 28% over the same period, leading to a shortage of more than 1,400 physicians.

Not only will there be more patients accessing medical care and a significant shortage of doctors to treat patients, we will also see the age of the treating doctors rise. According to Reuters, “In 2008, the proportion of oncologists older than 64 surpassed the proportion younger than 40 for the first time.”
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