By  on January 29, 2008

NEW YORK — Since opening its doors in 2003, the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention in Harlem has had 34,000 patient visits, with more than 4,000 patients screened for colon cancer. On Monday, Lauren inaugurated a 2,700-square-foot endoscopy wing, which will enable on-site colonoscopies and other endoscopic procedures. The addition is the result of a $2.5 million donation to the center by the Polo Ralph Lauren Foundation.

"It started five years ago," Lauren said, recalling his involvement in the cause. "For me, it's a wonderful connection. I had met Dr. Harold Freeman [president and founder of the center], and I was so impressed. He is a man who has a vision and sensitivity. And he came to Harlem the same year I started my business, in 1967.

"This is saving lives, this is real," the designer added. "This is a wonderful cause and I am proud to be a part of it."

Polo executives such as Roger Farah; David Lauren; Charles Fagan; Bette-Ann Gwathmey, who is closely involved with Polo's philanthropic efforts, and Oscar Cohen, executive director of the Polo Ralph Lauren Foundation, as well as former New York Mayor David Dinkins, came to show their support for Lauren and for the center.

"This is a very special day," said Freeman, who added that the five-year survival rate for patients with colon cancer in Harlem is 18.7 percent, compared with 52 percent for African-Americans nationwide and 62 percent for white Americans. "No person in America should die of colon cancer because they can't have a proper diagnosis," Freeman said.

Dinkins recalled being asked some time ago to pose in an ad for a colonoscopy. "People said I should look tough," he said. "I said, 'It seems to be counter to the fact.' A colonoscopy is easy....Any man can do it. I urge you to do it.

"I get one every hour and a half," he joked.

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