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Shortage of oncologists is affecting cancer treatment in Australia

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According to a national survey on oncology services, there is a significant difference between patients, diagnosed MOGAwith cancer, who were receiving cancer treatment, and the rest of patients who do not have the treatment.

Associate Professor Bogda Koczwara, from the Medical Oncology Group of Australia (MOGA), who carried out the survey , mentioned that survey showed only 19% of all patients diagnosed with cancer were getting chemotherapy. Dr Koczwara said "Of all the cancer diagnosed in Australia roughly half would derive a benefit from chemotherapy," she added "What we've seen in our survey is less than half of those patients receive chemotherapy, so rather than one in two patients we're seeing about one in five patients." Dr Koczwara added that this difference is caused by the low number of centers offering treatment in addition to deficiency in oncologists. Both those factors were taking place in Australia resulting in a chemotherapy utilization rate being "too low".

Some patients reported that they had to leave treatment since it was too hard to have help by a medical oncologist, Koczwara added, such as rural patients who had to have a long and regular drives to get to a population center. Moreover, even some patients, able to receive treatment, were not referred to oncology services as a result of what they, or their doctors, wrongly believed that chemotherapy "didn't have much to offer" them. Dr Koczwara said "I don't think cost is a factor... it may be a factor of access or awareness, or both," she added "It means there are patients in Australia today who could benefit from cancer treatment and they're not getting it." The survey was carried out on 80% of oncologists in Australia, and their reports of patients having treatment were revised and compared to the number of people reported on the national cancer register.

Dr Koczwara said that a small number of cancer patients might be receiving chemotherapy treatment outside of oncology services, but their number was unknown. She said Australia led the world in the development of a detailed and national cancer registry. Yet, there was a "paucity of data" regarding how these patients received their treatments. Dr Koczwara said "This is as accurate a picture as we can get today which means we need to try to work on our data collection," she added "Secondly, this is what we've got and it is too low."

The survey also reported an existing shortage of up to 157 oncologists as services trying to meet the increasing demand. Dr Koczwara said this shortage will be worse in the future since the demands for cancer treatments are increasing. The survey comes after the federal government announcement of an additional funding of $632 million in 10 years, to hire and train medical staff including 680 medical specialists. "We hope an expanded medical oncology workforce will be factored into the government's clinical training program," Dr Koczwara commented.


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