CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Democrat John Edwards said Sunday he is offering a strategy for dealing with cancer that would bolster research funding, create support networks for people dealing with the disease and encourage lifestyle changes to help keep others from getting it.
Edwards said his wife's battle with breast cancer has driven home the need to make combatting the disease a top priority for the next president.
"It's clear to me that this is a huge priority," Edwards said in a telephone interview. "That has had a huge influence on my thinking."
Edwards plans to spell out his proposals during a forum Monday sponsored by Olympic bicycling champion Lance Armstrong, himself a cancer survivor. Some details of the package were provided to The Associated Press, and Edwards discussed them in the interview, saying it would mark a new focus on battling cancer.
"I'm going to propose a national strategy for cancer survivorship," said Edwards. "It's a new way of thinking about cancer."
He said five-year cancer survivorship now stands at 66 percent, a 50 percent increase over 30 years ago. That's progress, but more needs to be made, he said.
Under the package being outlined by Edwards, he would:
— Push for a substantial increase in funding for cancer research conducted by the National Institutes for Health. He put no specific figure on the increase, but said only two of 10 research projects now get funded by the federal agency.
— Expand testing and reporting of chemicals that may increase cancer risks, as well as monitoring where they may exist.
— Launch a national research program to identify environmental risks, as well as promoting lifestyle changes that could reduce risk. Those include smoking cessation, improving diets at schools and bolstering exercise to combat obesity.
— Increase support for respite care, including home visits from nurses and other health professionals to give caregivers a break. He also calls for an Internet clearinghouse for information about services that are available for families dealing with the disease.
"Enormous burdens are placed on ordinary Americans who provide full-time care for loved ones with debilitating conditions," said Edwards.
Since Edwards and his wife announced earlier this year that her cancer had returned and spread, he has focused his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination heavily on health issues in general, cancer specifically. He has offered a universal health care plan that he said would serve as a foundation for the battle against cancer by providing screening and testing for all.
"I want any man or woman who faces this diagnosis to have access to the same high-quality health care that Elizabeth has received," said Edwards. "Uninsured cancer patients get half the treatments and have higher mortality rates. We have to have a national strategy."
Both Edwards and his wife previewed the cancer forum with an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"We understand the seriousness of this diagnosis," Mrs. Edwards said. "We understand that this disease will probably kill me one day."
Edwards said he is using his campaign to bring attention to the issue. "Both of us believe that what we're doing is important," he said. "This is the cause of our lives."
Armstrong is sponsoring a two-day forum on cancer issues, with the Democratic presidential candidates invited on Monday and Republicans on Tuesday.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" Armstrong expressed some disappointment that only a handful of candidates agreed to appear.
"I think the future commander in chief needs to show up and talk about what kills 600,000 Americans a year," said Armstrong. "I'm not going to sugar coat it, it's a disappointment, when you can't show up for whatever reason, won't show up and discuss such a devastating illness. Everybody was invited, of course, and I spoke to almost all of them personally."