Retired oncologist discusses research with congressmen.

In 43 years as an oncologist, Washington resident Roger Crawford has seen the crippling effects of various forms of cancer on his patients.

In those four decades of work, Crawford dedicated his life to providing the best possible care to those suffering through a terrible illness.

Now, even in retirement, Crawford is continuing to fight.

Crawford was one of over 750 patients, survivors, volunteers and staff who traveled Tuesday to Washington, D.C., for the annual American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Leadership Summit and Lobby Day, a day devoted to urging Congress to “make cancer a national priority,” according to a press release from the American Cancer Society.

For Crawford, that meant sitting down with Illinois Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, and Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk.

“I think the first thing we’re going to ask our congressmen is to support a $6 billion fund for cancer research over two years with $1 billion of that going to the National Cancer Institute,” Crawford said prior to the event. “Right now, only about 10 percent of all research grants are funded, and anything that we can do to increase research funding is going to help, especially with the human genome mapping.”

The human genome map — the first complete DNA sequence of any vertebrate on Earth — has provided a more in-depth look at cancer, Crawford said, opening doctors’ eyes to variations of the disease previously unknown to the medical community.

“When I first came into the oncology field ... we thought there were only two types of lung cancer,” Crawford said. “Until probably the last five years, we continued to think that. Over that span, five-year survival for lung cancer went from 14 percent when I first came in the field to 18 percent.

“... The reason was, with human genome mapping, we found out there were 17 variants of each type of lung cancer; instead of being two types of lung cancer, there were 34. ... You can imagine what a daunting task that is, trying to figure out what works with each type of cancer. That’s why we need more research funding. We can do more with what we have because of the knowledge that we have.”

Another issue Crawford planned to discuss included improving the quality of life for cancer patients.

“Cancer is classified as a chronic disease,” he said. “... Even if you’re cured, you still have issues related to your cancer.”

That means more palliative care — or care designed specifically to improve a patient’s quality of life — is needed, Crawford said. Such care can range from managing what he called chronic pain to helping manage everyday tasks.

“You may have a husband and wife, and one of them has cancer, so instead of having two incomes coming in, you’re only having one income coming in,” Crawford said. “I’ve seen patients who get behind on their electric bills and want to turn off their electricity. You need a whole team — social workers, mid-level providers, nurses — who are on this team and can stay in contact with you so that they can help throughout that phase, no matter if it’s pain or whether you need physical therapy.”

However, he added, that type of care does not receive as much reimbursment on a federal level.

“It’s a whole team approach, and right now, there aren’t a lot of reimbursments for palliative care, and there needs to be,” Crawford said. “Again, it’s to help all the issues in the course of the cancer treatment and survival.”

Another issue, Crawford said, is a loophole in Medicare that classifies the removal of precancerous colorectal polyps as “diagnostic,” Crawford said. That then leaves patients responsible for medical copays.

This creates a barrier for patients to undergo pre-cancer screenings, Crawford said.

“That is something that is so obvious that I just don’t understand why our legislators aren’t jumping on the bandwagon to support this,” Crawford said. “... Because it’s Medicare, only legislators can change that. The president can’t go in and do a presidential order and remove that barrier; it has to be our Congress to do it. It seems obvious to me how many lives it would save. Plus, about 70 percent of the colorectal cancers are in Medicare-aged patients, so it’s driving up the cost of care for these Medicare recipients. It would be much, much cheaper to pay for the screening, and you’re saving lives.

“It just doesn’t make sense. To me, it looks like an easy fix, but I can tell you, talking to legislators, they don’t necessarily see it that way. It’s a big task.”

While pushing Congress to place cancer at the top of the nation’s agenda is no easy undertaking, Crawford said, he is motivated by over 20,000 central Illinois patients who received his care during his 43 years as an oncologist — including several family members.

“For one person to see 20,000 patients, that’s way too many,” Crawford said. “We’ve got to do something to end this. With the human genome mapping, and being able to go into the protein level of the cell and do things, now is the time. ... I’m more passionate about this than I’ve ever been because last year, in talking about this with some researchers, they think we’re on the cusp of finding a cure, and I want to do everything I can do to help in that fight.”