Physician profile: Todd Crocenzi, M.D.

Todd Crocenzi, M.D.

Todd Crocenzi, M.D.
Director, Gastrointestinal Oncology Research
Robert W. Franz Cancer Research Center in the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute
Providence Cancer Center

Why did you choose to specialize in gastrointestinal oncology?
The gastrointestinal tract is incredibly complex extending from the esophagus and stomach to the colon and rectum. Such organs of digestion combined with complex organs such as the liver and pancreas to influence detoxification and metabolism. The challenge of managing cancers of this body system, which can affect nutrition and one’s general well-being, calls out to me.

What therapies do you find most promising?
The most exciting area of emerging cancer therapeutics is immunotherapy - harnessing the power of the body's own immune system to treat cancer.

How close are we to finding a vaccine for gastrointestinal cancers?
I think we'll see immunotherapies such as vaccines or other immunotherapy methods to treat advanced colon cancer within the next three years. Whether we can prevent cancer altogether through vaccines remains an elusive target, but I still think it's achievable.

You've compared the process of cancer research to rock climbing. How so?
It's the concept of incremental steps or gains to achieve a goal, working with partners who provide bidirectional assistance, using critical thinking and problem solving, and purposefully redirecting an approach through observations. This works much like one who scales a rock face, a project that can only be done safely with a belay partner. There is a constant exchange of ideas, problem solving and redirecting one’s route if necessary to achieve the goal of the summit. 

If you could change places with someone for a day, who would it be?
I saw a TV show on the elephant orphans project of Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. I'd like to work as a keeper (sort of a caregiver) in the project. The program strives to reintroduce orphaned elephants to the wild and to a family structure that was taken from them. It struck me as an unassuming program with a simple and noble goal that shows respect to a wondrous animal.

If you weren't a doctor, what would you be?
I think I would be an anthropologist or an archeologist. I've always been fascinated with history and how civilizations rise and fall. The healing arts and medicine often play a critical role in the course of the human condition throughout the world, and have for centuries.

A perfect day is …
One in which I have an opportunity to make a difference, make something better for someone, build something while still having time for restoration and mindfulness. My wife, who is a physician as well, shares this idea of a perfect day and we strengthen each other as a result.

How does philanthropic giving help?
A few years years ago a patient of mine traveled from California to participate in a clinical trial at our center. The study investigated whether a colon cancer vaccine, administered after surgical removal of colon cancer that had spread to the liver, would improve patients' odds of survival. My patient recently checked in with me. He is still cancer-free.

This study was made possible through donor-supported projects within Providence Cancer Center. Not only may it have helped my patient, but that particular project fostered collaboration with such institutions as Duke University. Philanthropy can have a positive ripple effect leading to more opportunities for the good of many.