Another physician shortage: oncologists

A looming shortage of oncologists will impact women's cancer care, according to a new study. (Pixabay)

There’s a growing shortage of oncologists in the U.S., one that particularly poses risks to women’s health, according to a new study.

An imminent wave of retiring oncologists will create a shortage in several U.S. metropolitan areas where there is a higher rate of breast and lung cancer among women, according to the report (PDF) by Doximity, a professional medical network.

The company based its report on data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, board certification data and self-reported data on more than 18,000 full-time, board-certified oncologists. Doximity compared workloads, age and the number of locally trained oncologists to identify the U.S. metro areas where shortages may appear first.

The analysis identified the 10 major U.S. cities most likely to suffer a shortage of oncologists. Cancer is the second most common cause of death for U.S. women, exceeded only by heart disease. Breast and lung cancers are the top two deadliest for American women, making access to treatment a key concern for women’s healthcare.

Map showing where oncologist shortages will occur

The demand for cancer treatment is expected to grow by 40% over the next six years, while at the same time, the American Society of Clinical Oncology is projecting a shortage of more than 2,200 oncologists by 2025.

RELATED: In high stakes business, oncologists subject to more burnout

“Cancer is one of the most pressing health issues that women face nationally. One out of every 17 U.S. women will develop lung cancer over the course of their lifetime and one out of every eight will develop invasive breast cancer,” said Amit Phull, M.D., co-author of the report and vice president of strategy and insights at Doximity.

“If the growing shortage of oncologists is not addressed, it could have serious implications for large patient populations, especially in places where the shortages are predicted to be most acute,” Phull said.

 The metropolitan statistical areas most likely to see a shortage of oncologists in the coming years were:

  1. Miami
  2. North Port, Florida
  3. New York City
  4. Los Angeles
  5. Washington, D.C.
  6. Detroit
  7. Hartford, Connecticut
  8. Buffalo, New York
  9. Las Vegas
  10. San Diego

Those top five areas have the highest percentage of oncologists who are aged 65 and older and nearing retirement. Thirty-seven of the 50 metropolitan statistical areas examined had 20% or more practicing oncologists already over the age of 65. In communities where access to an oncologist is already limited, the fear is that cancer patients may experience lags between screening, diagnosis and treatment.

Map of oncologists nearing retirement

Women on the East Coast and in middle America have high rates of breast and lung cancer. To better understand workload demands for oncologists, the study looked at rates of breast and lung cancer per 100,000 people. 

“By identifying where oncologist shortages may appear first, we can get a clearer view into how a shortage will impact local communities across the country; and particularly impact female patients suffering from the most common forms of cancer,” said Christopher Whaley, Ph.D., lead author of the report and adjunct assistant professor at the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health.

Other physician shortages have been predicted in primary care and specialties, including OB-GYNs, psychiatrists and cardiologists.