John Deeken, MD, is president of the Inova Schar Cancer Institute. He is board-certified in medical oncology and specializes in head and neck cancers.

Earlier this month, a study in the medical journal The Lancet Oncology predicted that cancer cases will rise worldwide in the next 2 decades. Meanwhile, we’ll face a shortage of cancer physicians who specialize in delivering treatments such as chemotherapy.

It’s a worrisome finding, but it doesn’t come out of the blue. We’ve known for some time that the number of people being treated for cancer is rising. In northern Virginia, the number of patients seeking care for cancer is expected to increase 25% over the next 10 years.

The good news: We’re ready. At Inova, we are taking action in several ways to address the predicted shortage of cancer specialists and improve care for our cancer patients.

Why are cancer cases increasing?

Survival rates for many cancers are improving. But the U.S. population is growing, and also growing older. Thanks to better treatments for diseases like heart disease and diabetes, people are also living longer than they used to. Because cancer is more common with age, those changes are driving the number of cancer cases upward.

At the same time, people with cancer are surviving longer. That’s a good thing, of course. But it means more survivors who will need cancer specialists to manage side effects and follow-ups into the future.

Cancer Care, Present & Future

At Inova, we’re preparing for these changes to the cancer landscape in several ways:

  • Training the Next Generation. At Inova, we’re preparing to launch our own training program in hematology and oncology to prepare the next generation of cancer specialists. We’re recruiting experts including surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists to build the program, which we hope to launch as soon as 2020 or 2021.
  • Expanding Access to Advanced Practice Providers. Nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) can play an important role in treating patients with cancer, including those who are in active treatment and survivors who may need support managing long-term side effects of their treatment. We’re incorporating more NPs and PAs into our cancer care team.
  • Life with Cancer. Often, an oncologist helps patients confront all sorts of issues, including pain, anxiety, depression and more. It’s part of the job, but we’re not always the best professional for handling those concerns. Inova Life with Cancer provides free services to people with cancer, including nutrition and fitness classes, support groups, stress management, pain management and counseling. Our psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists and other experts are available to help patients living with cancer, so that our cancer doctors have more time for more patients. 
  • Biomedical Research & Technology. Inova experts are involved in research studies to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment. For instance, our researchers are working to find biomarkers of cancer that allow us to detect when patients’ tumors are becoming resistant to their current treatment. We are also developing screening programs to detect cancers at earlier stages, when treatment is often less intensive and more likely to cure. Patients might be cured with surgery alone, for example, instead of needing chemotherapy, radiation or other treatments. We’re also exploring how we can better use telemedicine to monitor patients from the comfort and safety of their own homes. That would make things easier on patients and could allow our specialists to see more patients.   
  • Investing in the Future. In April 2019, Inova Health System dedicated the new flagship location of the Inova Schar Cancer Institute. It’s the first in the Washington, D.C. metro area to offer multidisciplinary cancer care under one roof. That highly coordinated care streamlines the treatment process, making the most efficient use of our cancer specialists — and making treatment more effective for patients.

Learn more about the state-of-the-art treatment options at the Inova Schar Cancer Institute.


  1. J. Faber on May 28, 2019 at 8:07 pm

    If you are expecting a shortage of cancer doctors why are you allowing lousy mid-level managers to dismantle one of the finest Oncology practices in Alexandria? My doctor has been on Dawes avenue for at least 25 years and as soon as INOVA took over things went downhill. Now I am told I have to find a new oncologist because INOVA isn’t making enough money with my doctor anymore. They were perfectly fine for decades before INOVA took over. What about the patients? What about the community’s best interests? Shame on INOVA Schar!

    • InovaNewsroom on May 30, 2019 at 8:14 am

      We hear your concern and we have shared your message with the Inova Medical Group team. If you would like to discuss further, please contact Laura at 571-472-1333.

  2. James on May 28, 2019 at 8:48 pm

    There wouldn’t be a shortage of oncologists if INOVA didn’t fire a whole bunch of great ones in order to have the budget to open the nice new center. As a patient what has happened to INOVA and their values system is appalling.

    • InovaNewsroom on May 30, 2019 at 8:16 am

      Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns, we have shared your message with leaders at Inova Medical Group. If you would like to further discuss your concerns, please contact Laura at 571-472-1333.

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