The United States is to face an acute shortage of gastroenterologists.
An ageing population and increasing need for colorectal cancer screening will mean the country will require additional 1,050 gastroenterologists by 2020, according to a study by The Lewin Group.
If colorectal cancer screening rates were to increase by 10 percent, the nation would need as many as 1,550 additional gastroenterologists by that time, the firm found. Colon cancer is the nation's second leading cancer killer. There are currently 10,390 practicing gastroenterologists in the United States, according to the report.
Already several studies have documented a looming shortage of primary care physicians and geriatricians needed to treat the aging population.
But fixing those shortages still may not improve colorectal cancer detection and treatment.
Primary care physicians do not provide specialized services like colonoscopies that can detect precancerous colorectal polyps, it is pointed out.
"We know that one of the most cost-effective, preventive things we can do is colorectal cancer screening," Dr. David A. Johnson, chief of gastroenterology at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, and a past president of the American College of Gastroenterology. said. "The more patients age, the more likely they are to have cancer and precancerous disease."
"The shortfall of gastroenterologists could limit the nation's ability to implement national guidelines for [cancer] screening, particularly in underserved communities," said Tim Dall, vice president at The Lewin Group and author of the study.
The study was commissioned by Olympus Corporation of the Americas, which manufactures cameras used to screen for colorectal cancer, but the projections were reviewed by outside experts, writes Roni Caryn Rabin in New York Times.