Breast Examination Center of Harlem Expands Service

March 1, 1995

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.

NEW YORK--Gospel singers, ministers, elected officials, breastcancer survivors, and the president and board of Memorial Sloan-KetteringCancer Center came to Harlem to celebrate, with music and soulfood, the expansion of the Breast Examination Center of Harlem,a center that has screened more than 24,000 women for breast cancersince its opening in 1979.

The center, a program of Memorial Sloan-Kettering with fundingfrom the New York State Department of Health, provides the womenof Harlem with free screenings for breast cancer. Now, as a resultof the expansion, the center is adding cervical cancer screening,and has the equipment and staff to perform 20,000 examinationsa year.

Since opening in 1979, the center has identified nearly 400 womenwith the disease. Of the total, 32% have been diagnosed in theearly stages, a rate much higher than typically found at otherscreening programs in medically underserved communities.

By comparison, only 6% of unscreened breast cancer patients seenat Harlem Hospital over a 20-year period were diagnosed with stageI disease.

The spacious and sunny center, its walls hung with pastel paintingswith a Caribbean theme, has added three mammography units andnew examination rooms. The center, which has a staff of 16, willbe able to double the number of patient visits and accommodatemore personnel, including "patient navigators" who willassist 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 directorof the center, recalled how the center got started. In 1977, HarlemHospital had done a study showing that of the first 165 breastcancer cases analyzed, half were incurable when they walked inthe door and only 30% were alive after 5 years. "We knewthat 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 yearlygrant; then, in 1980, they brought in one of the most respectedcancer centers in America, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, to carryit to state of the art," he said.

Members of Memorial Sloan-Kettering's Department of Radiologyinterpret the mammography studies performed at the center, andits pathologists will interpret the Pap smears.

"Our involvement in this center is part of our commitmentto the control and cure of cancer," said Memorial Sloan-KetteringPresident Paul Marks, MD. "Early detection is our best hopeto improve cure rates for breast, uterine, and cervical cancers.As we expand this center, we expand Sloan-Kettering's commitmentto women's health."