Media Call-in Spotlights Threats to Cancer Care in Pennsylvania

Despite rising cancer cure rates, the number of overall cases across the state and the nation is increasing due to an aging population and poor health habits, such as tobacco, alcohol, obesity, and physical inactivity.

In Pennsylvania, physicians are concerned that this trend is colliding with a decreasing physician workforce, declining state and federal research funds, and increasing financial pressures that are forcing the closure of community based cancer care practices. They fear this could result in declining quality and availability of cancer care.

“There will be a significant shortage of oncologists in the U.S. in the future,” according to David Parda, MD, president of Pennsylvania Society of Oncology and Hematology (PSOH), and a radiation oncologist and system chair at Allegheny Health Network, Pittsburgh. Dr. Parda took part in a media call-in on April 8, 2014, hosted by the Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED), on “The State of Cancer Care in America.” A panel of medical specialists provided the physician perspective.

The call spotlighted recommendations in a recently released study from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) designed to help cancer care providers and policymakers to understand the problems and address them.

By 2030, Dr. Parda said, the number of cancer cases per year will increase by 45 percent to 2.4 million.  At the same time, the ASCO study pointed out that research funding has decreased 23 percent since 2003 and the hematology/oncology physician workforce is shrinking.

Particularly worrisome in Pennsylvania is that the availability of cancer care in the local community – especially in rural areas – is declining. “Smaller community (hematology/oncology) practices are particularly impacted,” Dr. Parda said, “And they are the backbone of cancer care. Two-thirds of these practices are likely to merge, sell, or close in next few years” due to financial pressures.

Marilyn Heine, MD, a hematologist and medical oncologist with Regional Hematology Oncology Associates, Langhorne, PSOH Board member and former PAMED president, shared Pennsylvania statistics on cancer care from the Department of Health’s State Health Assessment, released last week.

Scot Chadwick, PAMED legislative counsel, noted that cancer care in Pennsylvania is also potentially threatened by a 40 percent cut in the state’s share of national tobacco settlement dollars, earmarked for health care. PAMED continues to support restoration of the funds as the state appeals its case.