At a time when we are more and more likely to catch cancers at a stage when they are treatable thanks to improved early detection, the American Society of Clinical Oncology reports the United States is facing a severe shortage of cancer specialists over the coming years, 1200 WOAI news reports.
That means that patients will have to wait longer to see a cancer specialist, at a time when early, aggressive treatment is being seen as the best way to stop cancers from doing damage.
And Dr. Anthony Tolcher, who is the Clinical Director at San Antonio's START Center for Cancer Care, and one of the country's most respected oncologists, says changes in Medicare reimbursements for physicians under Obamacare is making the situation worse.
"Most patients who develop cancer are actually in the Medicare range, 65 and older, and we also have a new insurance system that is going to pay lower than most commercial insurance rates," Dr. Tolcher said.
The result, Dr. Tolcher says, is that new doctors may pick more profitable specialties.
The ASCO report says the United States will be short 1500 oncologists in the coming decade. The report says that will be especially troublesome for patients in rural areas and in inner cities, which are already underserved.
Dr. Tolcher said all we had to do is look to Canada, which instituted a government run health care system several decades ago.
"And ultimately, people there are faced with long waits, longer times to see a specialist, and, ultimately, I think, inferior care."
The report concludes that the drop in oncologists comes at the worst possible time. The huge Baby boomer generation is moving into their sixties, at a time when they are at the largest risk for cancer.
The ASCO says there are now a record 13.7 million cancer survivors in the United States, and many of them will want to maintain a relationship with their oncologist, something that will be difficult to do with fewer cancer specialists available.
And Obamacare will bring millions of new people into the system who previously did not have insurance, and they will be seeking out cancer treatment as well.
The total cost of cancer treatment is expected to reach $175 billion a year by 2020, up 40% from today's figures.