Cancer patients needing surgery to increase by 5 million globally by 2040: Lancet study

The research estimates that there will be a shortfall of about 1,99,000 surgeons and 87,000 anaesthetists to meet the demand in 2040.

A modelling and in-depth analysis of the growing demand for cancer surgery, based on data from 183 countries in recent years, predicts that the number of cancer patients needing surgery will rise by five million by 2040. The analysis, published in the journal Lancet Oncology on 21 January, also indicates that the bulk of the increasing demand will come from 34 low-income nations, and be accompanied by a corresponding increase in medical workforce to meet the demand for surgery and anaesthesia.

The surge in cancer surgery demand has placed strain on global health systems, according to the study. The number of cancer cases in which surgical procedures were prescribed, was estimated using models of trends in recent years in 183 countries. National data from countries around the world was put together and sorted by different income categories. This was later used to estimate the number of cases that would require surgery by 2040, and the increase in workforce that is needed to meet this demand.

Cancer patients needing surgery to increase by 5 million globally by 2040 Lancet study

Sample analysis tubes are seen in a lab at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton. Image: ICR

The model estimates that 5 million more procedures (52 percent) will be carried out by 2040 (1,38,21,000) than in 2018 (90,65,000). The greatest relative increase in demand was in 34 low-income countries, which also had the largest gaps in optimum workforce requirements. It is estimated that there will be a shortage of 1,99,000 surgeons and 87,000 anaesthetists – the workforce levels in these specialities are 26 percent and 24 percent suboptimal, respectively.

These shortages in workforce were greatest in low-income countries, where the number of surgeons and anesthetists needs to more than double to keep pace with anticipated demand by 2040, the study concluded.  To match the current levels of high-income countries, the numbers will need to increase by nearly 400 percent and 550 percent, respectively, according to the study authors.