Cancer Care Reaches Near Crisis

The ability to treat cancer in a growingly aging population is reaching a near crisis level in the healthcare community.

The ability to treat cancer in a growingly aging population is reaching a near crisis level in the healthcare community. As elderly patients with cancer begin to outpace the oncologist workforce, experts are concerned about patients’ quality of care.

"As a nation, we need to chart a new course for cancer care," said Dr Patricia Ganz, a professor at UCLA's schools of medicine and public health. "Changes are needed across the board, from how we communicate with patients, to how we translate research into practice, to how we coordinate care and measure its quality.”

Currently there an estimated 1.6 million new cases of cancer diagnosed each year. Within the next 20 years, those incidents are likely to rise 45% to 2.3 million new cases a year.

Increasingly complex cancer treatments and health reform have also affected practitioners. An inability to keep up with the new information and trends in cancer has led many oncologists to incorrectly treat patients, fail to explain options, and leave patients to coordinate their own care.

“Too few oncologists know how to provide palliative care to keep patients comfortable when treatment has failed, or even how to make referrals to palliative-care consultants,” said researchers at the Institute of Medicine. “Many are failing to explain the pros and cons of treatment options, let alone asking patients about their preferences. Nor are they spelling out the goals of treatment or even what treatment patients have received and how it might affect their future health.”

While guidelines like those developed by the American Society of Clinical Onocology provide a variety of recommended treatments for nearly every kind of cancer, clinician adoption of them is not universal. Instead, many rely on their own experience, while others are unaware such guidelines even exist. These inconsistencies can be costly. Between 2004 and 2010, cancer-care related costs rose from $72 billion to $125 billion. By 2020, the cost could amount to $173 billion, especially as a shortage of oncologists, complex treatments, and skyrocketing health costs impact cancer treatment.

In addressing the workforce shortage and controlling costs, some treatment centers are focusing on a team-based, collaborative approach. Dr Yusuf Hannun, director of the Stony Brook University Cancer Center, said his hospital is already implementing the change. “We are aware of all of these issues and we are trying to be ahead of the curve,” he said.

Better Ferrell, an oncology nurse researcher at the City of Hope Cancer Center, suggests that in order to mitigate a cancer care crisis, “It will take training of professionals and it will take big changes at a policy level including how care is reimbursed."

Around the Web

US Cancer-Care Delivery is 'In Crisis': Report [Reuters]

Crisis Looms in Cancer Treatment, Says Panel [Newsday]

US Cancer Care in Crisis, Experts Say [NBC News]