Since its founding in 1979, the Breast Examination Center of Harlem (BECH) - an outreach program of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center - has screened more than 200,000 women for breast cancer. BECH has an established reputation in the Harlem community for free, high-quality care offered by its professional staff.
The Breast Examination Center of Harlem houses 15 full-time staff, including the program director, a health educator, mammography technicians, patient navigators, session assistants, plus other administrative support staff.
The professional staff is under the leadership of Harold Freeman, surgeon and Medical Director of BECH, and includes breast surgeons and nurse practitioners. Members of Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Department of Radiology interpret the mammography studies; Memorial Sloan-Kettering pathologists interpret the Pap studies.
Dr. Freeman has been a pioneer in his efforts to focus attention on cancer in medically underserved populations. Dr. Freeman is Professor of Clinical Surgery at Columbia University, a consultant in surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Medical Director of the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention, and Advisor to the Director of the National Cancer Institute. He is a past president of both the American Cancer Society and Harlem’s North General Hospital, as well as a four-time past chairman of the President’s Cancer Panel, under Presidents George Bush (1991) and Bill Clinton (1994, 1997, and 2000).
Through his leadership in establishing programs such as BECH, Dr. Freeman has been instrumental in providing free breast cancer screening services to improve the early detection and reduce the impact of breast cancer among African American and Hispanic women. In 1990, the American Cancer Society honored Dr. Freeman with the creation of a special award named for him. The Harold P. Freeman Service Award is given to individuals, organizations, and companies in recognition of exemplary achievement in bringing cancer-detection programs to communities at increased risk.
Volunteers at BECH assist the staff in many ways, such as performing clerical duties, answering telephones, and helping to implement the Center’s outreach programs. In 1986, the Friends of BECH - comprised of breast-cancer patients - formed a support group to help presurgical and postsurgical patients share their concerns. In 1993, one of those volunteers, Matilda Goodridge, received the American Cancer Society’s Courage Award from President Clinton.
In a community where healthcare is often associated with crowded waiting rooms and impersonal treatment, BECH has become known for its warmth and efficiency. This comfortable, supportive center also includes a supervised area for young children.
The Breast Examination Center of Harlem has received many awards for its outreach accomplishments, including the Eleanor Roosevelt Community Service Certificate of Merit. A recent multimedia public awareness campaign, featuring television actress and singer Nell Carter, was recognized for excellence in African American advertising and received a Silver Effie for its effectiveness.