There are less than 1,600 cancer specialists in the country to treat an estimated one crore cancer patients, and the situation is likely to worsen with an expected 20 per cent jump in the number of cancer cases by the end of this decade, according to government data and prominent doctors’ associations.
The doctor-patient ratio gap is unlikely to be corrected any time soon unless dramatic measures are taken since many of these specialities are relatively new and the number of seats in these superspecialities is limited. Gynaecological oncology for example sees only one new specialist every year. There are only four seats in DM paediatric oncology approved by the Medical Council of India and six seats in DNB paediatric hemato oncology run by the National Board of Examinations (NBE).
The statistics are particularly alarming given that the National Health Profile released recently by the Union Health Ministry predicts that by 2020, India will have a more than 20 per cent spike in cancer cases, with the increase being higher in women than in men. The National Health Profile predicts that the total number of male cancer patients will jump to 6,22,203 in 2020 from the current 5,22,164. The number of female cancer patients will touch 6,98,725 by 2020 from the present 5,64,619.
While India has a shortage of medical personnel in general, the gap in the number of oncologists, experts say, is relatively bigger and India has a tough battle on its hands if it needs to meet the optimum of one cancer specialist for every 100,000 population.
“It is true that the shortage of cancer doctors is out of proportion with the shortage in medical manpower in other specialities. There are some 1,500 oncologists in India (medical, radiation and surgical). There are 50 pediatric oncologists and 30 gynaecological oncologists. Though they are not all concentrated in the metros — Nashik has four medical oncologists, Indore has five — there is no denying that there is a problem that we can only manage if we look for innovative solutions,” says Dr Purvish Parikh, director, precision oncology, at Asian Institute of Oncology, Somaiya Hospital and president of the Indian Society of Paediatric and Medical Oncology.
Even premier cancer treatment centres in India do not have the kind of doctor-patient ratio that their western counterparts do. For instance, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, USA sees the same number of new cancer patients as Mumbai’s Tata Memorial