In their first report of its kind, ASCO dug into the prevalence of cancer in the U.S. and its projected rise, as well a number of pitfalls in our current medical system that will make treating all those cancer cases increasingly difficult. In fact, the report notes, the field of oncology is under such strain from skyrocketing medical costs and doctor shortages that the Institute of Medicine has called it "a system in crisis" in need of "urgent intervention."
Here are some key findings from the report:
• High costs. The cost of cancer care is expected to increase over 60 percent by 2020 and could hamper the ability of low-income cancer sufferers to get access to high-quality care.
• Less access to good care. Despite millions of uninsured people now having access to coverage through the Affordable Care Act, or ACA (AKA Obamacare), ASCO isn't optimistic that ACA will improve cancer screenings and treatment, "in part because it places significant emphasis on expanding Medicaid coverage, which has been associated with poor outcomes for patients with cancer," the report states.
• A shrinking oncology workforce. The report estimates that demand for oncologists will increase by 42 percent by 2025, but that the number of oncologists will increase by only 28 percent. That deficit is going to make it difficult to treat the growing number of people predicted to get cancer.
• Increasingly complex care. More treatment options, and more personalized methods of treating cancer, are inarguably a good thing. But learning about all these treatment options places more strain on a beleaguered workforce, the report says, and it's a challenge that needs to be addressed.
There is some good news in the report: Despite their prediction that cancer will be the leading killer of Americans, they do note that five-year survival rates for the disease are better than they've ever been, increasing 20 percent since 1975. Nowadays, nearly 70 percent of people diagnosed with cancer are still living five years after their initial diagnosis. Of course, even survival presents challenges. Cancer survivors are at greater risks for other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and other forms of cancer, which will increase their demand for health services to the order of roughly $16,000 per year.
The bottom line? Cancer is traumatic and expensive, and your chances of getting good quality care if you get it are highly dependent upon a field of medicine that's facing increasing strain. So it's a good idea to take control of your health and prevent it from becoming a problem in your life.