NEW YORK--Gospel singers, ministers, elected officials, breast
cancer survivors, and the president and board of Memorial Sloan-Kettering
Cancer Center came to Harlem to celebrate, with music and soul
food, the expansion of the Breast Examination Center of Harlem,
a center that has screened more than 24,000 women for breast cancer
since its opening in 1979.
The center, a program of Memorial Sloan-Kettering with funding
from the New York State Department of Health, provides the women
of Harlem with free screenings for breast cancer. Now, as a result
of the expansion, the center is adding cervical cancer screening,
and has the equipment and staff to perform 20,000 examinations
Since opening in 1979, the center has identified nearly 400 women
with the disease. Of the total, 32% have been diagnosed in the
early stages, a rate much higher than typically found at other
screening programs in medically underserved communities.
By comparison, only 6% of unscreened breast cancer patients seen
at Harlem Hospital over a 20-year period were diagnosed with stage
The spacious and sunny center, its walls hung with pastel paintings
with a Caribbean theme, has added three mammography units and
new examination rooms. The center, which has a staff of 16, will
be able to double the number of patient visits and accommodate
more personnel, including "patient navigators" who will
assist women from the time of diagnosis through resolution.
At the ceremony celebrating the reopening, Harold P. Freeman,
MD, director of surgery at Harlem Hospital and medical director
of the center, recalled how the center got started. In 1977, Harlem
Hospital had done a study showing that of the first 165 breast
cancer cases analyzed, half were incurable when they walked in
the door and only 30% were alive after 5 years. "We knew
that we had a very, very serious problem," Dr. Freeman said.
To deal with these problems, the center was opened in January,
1979. "The State of New York gave us the space and a yearly
grant; then, in 1980, they brought in one of the most respected
cancer centers in America, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, to carry
it to state of the art," he said.