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Cancer poised to unseat heart disease as the leading cause of death in the US by 2020

December 20, 2018

    Heart disease has held the unfortunate title of leading cause of death in the United States for nearly a century—since 1921. With declining death rates from heart disease and an aging population, that is about to change: According to research from CDC, cancer will surpass heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States by 2020. Across a thirteen year span in the United States, counties with cancer as the leading cause of death doubled, from about two in every 10 counties during 2003 to four in every 10 counties in 2015.

    Although cancer mortality rates actually declined by 16% from 2003 to 2015, the US' "silver tsunami" is predicted to heavily increase the number of new cancer cases. Estimates from the Oncology Roundtable's Cancer Incidence Estimator predict the number of new cancer cases in the United States will grow by 11.1% in the next five years.

    What does this mean for cancer programs? Take the three below steps to prepare.

    1. Understand your patient volumes and manage for growth

    The first step is understanding your market landscape and demographics. Cancer-related deaths are still largely linked to socioeconomic and ethnic factors. Based on research from CDC, only Asian-Americans, Hispanics, and whites in the highest-income U.S. counties have seen cancer deaths exceed heart disease deaths. The socioeconomic and ethnic makeup of your community will impact disease burden and mortality rates of your patients.

    In addition, you should use Oncology Roundtable's Cancer Incidence Estimator to evaluate what's happening in your specific market. This tool starts with national incidence rates, layered with your market’s specific demographics, to provide representative estimates of cancer incidence in your market.

    Learn more about anticipating and preparing for growth with our Growth Strategy tools.

    To accommodate a growing cancer patient population, program leaders need to do the following:

    • Ensure top-of-license practice across the entire care team to make the most of limited specialist time and expertise;
    • Build your workforce pipeline in anticipation of increased retirement; and
    • Improve transitions to survivorship for eligible patients, opening up oncologists' capacity for new patients.

    Related resource: Survivorship: Meeting the unique needs of cancer survivors

    2. Invest in screening and preventative care

    With cancer projected to be the leading cause of death by 2020, it is critical that programs recommit to screening, identifying, and preventing cancer in years to come. Screening can tricky given conflicting and changing guidelines, particularly for prostate and breast cancer screening. Providers must educate patients on the pros and cons of screening, taking into account patient risk factors to reach an individualized, informed decision.

    In addition, oncology leaders need to improve access to screening services and community education on prevention. Innovative, convenient screening events, such as mobile mammography vans or a strolling colon, coupled with improved primary care education and outreach, are great places to start.

    Additional Resources:

    3. Make a plan to improve end-of-life care

    Navigating end-of-life discussions can be devastating—for patients, family members, and providers. However, with an aging population, and cancer set to be the leading cause of death in the United States by 2020, these discussions will be increasingly necessary.

    Now is the time to educate your providers on how to effectively deploy end-of-life care, with tools that empower patients to start the conversation. In addition to empowering patients, improve your program's end-of-life care by giving your care team the right training, integrating palliative care early, and building better hospice relationships.

    Learn more on the Oncology Roundtable's Palliative Care landing page.


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