A Passion for Cancer Prevention and for City of Hope

Leslie Bernstein, M.D. never imagined that she would have a distinguished career as a cancer prevention researcher. Upon graduation from high school at age 16, she was offered the opportunity to study biostatistics and prepare for a Ph.D. program then being launched at UCLA. Her career trajectory was delayed when, at age 18, she married her husband, Saul, and moved with him to San Francisco, where he began medical school at the University of California and she gave up her career to become a mother.

While raising their three children, Bernstein continued to take classes, eventually earning her degree in biostatistics at USC. She was hired in the department of preventive medicine at USC, where she remained for 30 years. During those years she developed a program in cancer epidemiology, focusing on breast cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and developing the California Teachers Study, which includes more than 134,000 women who have been followed for cancer development for nearly 20 years. As Bernstein was considering the next chapter in her career, she was offered a position at City of Hope. “I knew that City of Hope was looking for someone to do population-based studies,” she says. “That was a perfect fit for me. It was the best thing I could have done personally and professionally.”

One of the distinguished scientists behind some of City of Hope’s most important research, Bernstein is known for studies of the hormonal basis of breast cancer. Her most recent research links regular exercise to a reduced risk of breast cancer. She was awarded the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction by the Susan G. Komen Foundation and is the only woman to receive the Prevent Cancer award from the American Association for Cancer Research.

She says, “I would love to see more women in the field of cancer research. In many ways, a glass ceiling still exists for women, though I’m happy to say this is not an issue at City of Hope.”

Sadly, Bernstein’s husband passed away suddenly three years ago. When she inherited his IRA, she realized she was in a position to use some of those funds to make an IRA gift to City of Hope — making her own contribution to address City of Hope’s funding needs.

“I wasn’t aware of the IRA rollover gift opportunity until recently,” she says. “Instead of selling stock and paying the taxes, I used it to make a gift to City of Hope. I may not be able to do this again, but I can do it now. In addition to my professional association with City of Hope, I have friends who have been treated there. I am grateful for the care they have received. And I am glad to have the opportunity to give back.”