HOUSTON - Between 2010 and 2020, the demand for radiation therapy will exceed the number of radiation oncologists practicing in the U.S. tenfold, which could profoundly affect the ability to provide patients with sufficient access to treatment, according to new research from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
The study, published in the October 18, 2010 issue of The Journal of Clinical Oncology, estimates that over the next decade, the number of cancer patients requiring radiation therapy will increase by 22 percent, while the number of full-time equivalent radiation oncologists entering the workforce will increase by just two percent. Researchers based their calculations on projections that in 2010, 3,943 radiation oncologists will treat an estimated 470,000 patients in the U.S.
According to Benjamin Smith, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at MD Anderson and lead author of the study, radiation therapy is critical in the cancer care continuum, making the need for solutions that will resolve the gap a priority to continue providing the best cancer care possible. With this in mind, researchers also outlined stop-gap measures to address the shortage, including adopting more team-care models, altering the length of treatment and gradually increasing the size of residency training programs.
The findings add to the growing body of literature compiled by the American Society for Clinical Oncology and other organizations on the projected shortage of cancer doctors over the next ten years, which is driven largely by demographic changes, including an increase in older adults and minorities, groups in which certain cancers are more prevalent. Data from the study approximates that the need for radiation therapy for adults ages 65 and older will increase 38 percent; for minorities, demand will increase by 45 percent.
"Shortages mean double trouble," said Smith. "Since research has
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University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center