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Symbol of HOPE Award

Dr. Harold P. Freeman, the preeminent authority on poverty and cancer, has devoted his career to improving the healthcare needs of the poor and underserved. To that end, he has embarked on a personal crusade to heighten awareness among medical professionals and the public that poverty and cultural barriers, more than race, are reasons for the higher rates of cancer incidence and death among minorities; for leading the American Cancer Society and other organizations to commit more resources to benefit diverse populations; and for his devotion to reducing the cancer burden among the medically underserved.


Harold Freeman credits his personal crusade for improved medical care on behalf of the less fortunate to his heritage, pointing to his great-granduncle who graduated from Harvard in 1869 and was the first African-American dentist in America, to his grandfather who was a physician in Washington, DC, and to his mother who instilled in him a sense of racial pride and a commitment to humanity.


When Dr. Freeman began his medical career at Harlem Hospital Center in 1967, he was shocked to learn that the majority of his patients had hopelessly advanced cases of cancer. He set out to determine the cause of higher mortality rates of these African Americans and to reduce the race- and income-related disparities in healthcare.


In 1979, using a grant from the American Cancer Society, Dr. Freeman established two free breast and cervical cancer screening centers in Harlem to improve the chances of early detection. He authored the landmark reports, “Cancer in the Economically Disadvantage”, which illustrated the links between poverty and cancer mortality and “Excess Mortality in Harlem”, which showed that a black male in Harlem has a shorter life span than a male in Bangledesh.


When Dr. Freeman was president of the American Cancer Society from 1988 to 1989, he conducted a series of hearings across the United States that documented economic status, education, literacy, cultural influences, and access to care are reasons more pivotal than race as to why some populations suffer from higher cancer incidence and mortality. Today, the American Cancer Society views correcting this inequity as an important part of its mission and currently dedicates a portion of its research to studying the issues that affect these groups. The American Cancer Society established The Harold P. Freeman Service Award in 1990, a national award given to individuals, groups, organizations, and/or companies for exemplary achievement in bringing cancer control to underserved, at-risk communities.


Today Dr. Freeman is medical director of the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention in Harlem, and professor of Clinical Surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. One of the most innovative services provided by the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention is Patient Navigation – a concept pioneered by Dr. Freeman. The navigators assist patients and family members to effectively access healthcare services and ensure that they are not lost in the complexities of the health care system. Patient navigators help individuals overcome obstacles ranging from financial and insurance difficulties to communication and information challenges; medical system barriers such as missed appointments; and emotional concerns. This Patient Navigation model is being adopted at numerous sites throughout the country and is currently being considered by the U.S. Congress for national implementation.


Dr. Freeman has served (3) four terms as chairman of the United States President’s Cancer Panel. In addition, Dr. Freeman was recently appointed associate director of the National Cancer Institute and the director of its Center for Reducing Cancer Health Disparities.


Dr. Freeman was born in Washington, D.C. and graduated from the Catholic University of America where he received the Harris Award for "Outstanding Scholar, Gentlemen, and Athlete." He later received an award for Outstanding Alumnus in the Medical Arts at Catholic University, and more recently was inducted into the Athlete's Hall of Fame of the University. He graduated from Howard University Medical School, Washington, D.C. and completed internship and residency in General Surgery at Howard University Hospital where he received the Daniel Hale Williams Award for Outstanding Achievements as Chief Resident. Subsequently he was Senior Resident in Cancer Surgery for three years at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York City. Dr. Freeman is a Diplomat of the American Board of Surgery and a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, has served as a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors of the American College of Surgeons, the Executive Council of the Society of Surgical Oncology, Chairman of the Surgical Section of the National Medical Association, Chairman of the Eastern Region of the Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer, Medical Director of the Breast Examination Center of Harlem, Chairman of the New York State Commission for a Healthy New York,Chairman of the New York State Breast Cancer Treatment Quality Advisory Panel, a member of Ethics Committee of the Board of Regents of the American College of Surgeons, and a Fellow member of the American Surgical Association.


Dr. Freeman was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1997. He has received Honorary Doctor of Science Degrees from Albany Medical College, Niagara University, Adelphi University, and the Catholic University of America. His many awards include the Mary Lasker Public Service Award, the American Cancer Society Medal of Honor Award, the American Society of Clinical Oncology “Special Recognition Award”, the Center’s for Disease Control “Champion of Prevention Award” and the Association of Community Cancer Center’s “Annual Achievement Award”. Dr. Freeman has lectured extensively throughout the United States as well as in Europe, Africa, South America, China and the Middle East on numerous subjects related to cancer prevention and treatment.