Cancer affects us all. But across America, people challenged by social and economic factors are at particular risk of being underdiagnosed and undertreated.
Founded as a nonprofit treatment center in Harlem to fight health disparities in the community, the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care has grown to become a beacon for quality, dignity and accessibility in cancer care.
With specialists certified by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a team of experienced Care Navigators, the Center is ensuring that more New Yorkers have access to the resources, tools and quality treatment they need to not only survive cancer, but also thrive well beyond it.
An auspicious meeting between two doctors and a fashion legend led to the start of a transformative approach to cancer care.
The partnership at the heart of the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care was forged in 2000, when Harold P. Freeman, MD — a cancer surgeon in Harlem for more than 40 years and a nationally recognized authority on the interrelationship of race, poverty and cancer — met with world-renowned fashion designer Ralph Lauren and Harold Varmus, MD — former president and chief executive officer of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a Nobel Laureate recognized for his studies of the genetic basis of cancer.
Dr. Freeman shared his experiences of working with a population of medically underserved, primarily African-American patients. Often when he first saw his patients, their cancer was already advanced and incurable. He described how his studies had led him to identify poverty, not race, as the principal cause of Harlem’s high cancer death rate and a universal cause of lower cancer survival rates.
This meeting inspired the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation to make a major capital contribution to create the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care as a unique joint venture with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, one of the preeminent cancer centers in the country.
The Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care is continually pursuing innovative education and outreach, screening and treatment initiatives to ensure greater access to quality cancer care and, ultimately, greater health equity.
A renowned cancer specialist and advocate for equitable access to care, Harold P. Freeman, M.D., is the Chairman Emeritus and Founder of the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care. He is also Senior Advisor to the Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and a Professor of Clinical Surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Throughout his storied career, Dr. Freeman has held many notable positions — such as Director of Surgery at Harlem Hospital in New York for twenty-five years and Chairman of the President’s Cancer Panel for four consecutive three-year terms — and received numerous accolades — including Time, Inc.’s International Health and Medical Media Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award and the American Cancer Society’s Medal of Honor.
Dr. Freeman pioneered the Patient Navigation Program, designed to help navigate the complexities of the health system and open access to care, particularly among people who face social and economic hardships. This model remains at the heart of the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care’s approach.
The success of Dr. Freeman’s program has led many other healthcare organizations to adopt similar initiatives. Based on this model, the Patient Navigator and Chronic Disease Prevention Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in June 2005.
The Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care benefits from the combined resources of two of the country’s most potent organizations in the fight against cancer.
Ten years ago, the Center was established in partnership with the Polo Ralph Lauren Foundation and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the nation’s leading cancer center. Both organizations remain deeply involved, providing leadership and financial support to the Center. Key members from both organizations sit on our Board, and Memorial Sloan Kettering certifies all our cancer specialists.