Partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C., may end up costing cancer patients their lives, doctors and administrators argued on Friday during an advocacy event at the Medical University of South Carolina’s Hollings Cancer Center.

“Fifty years ago, a cancer diagnosis was a virtual death sentence. That’s not true at all today,” said Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, who spoke at the event.

But federal spending cuts, including sequestration, threaten future cancer research, he said.

“We have a sequester, which is another word for failure,” Hansen said. “My basic point is (cancer research) is a national priority.”

Dr. Andrew Kraft, director of the Hollings Cancer Center, said the sequester cuts will affect the amount of grant funding the National Institutes of Health can give to scientists at MUSC. The National Institutes of Health will face a 5.1 percent budget reduction because of sequestration, the American Cancer Society estimates.

“We hope that this message from today will make it back to Washington … and that it will be heard in our hallowed halls,” Kraft said.

Their message was driven home by John Sanders, administrator of the MUSC Children’s Hospital, who is fighting Stage 4 lung cancer.

Sanders, a lifelong nonsmoker, explained that a cutting edge clinical trial has helped prolong his life by years. Federal funding cuts will keep trials like this from getting off the ground, he said.

“Folks that are in Washington and at the state level, y’all need to work on this,” Sanders said.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.