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 204,592 women for breast cancer. BECH has an established reputation in the Harlem community for free, high-quality care offered by its professional staff.
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 Chairman Emeritus and Founder of the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention as well as Advisor to the Director of the National Cancer Institute.
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.
- Patient Follow-Up
When you come to the Breast Examination Center of Harlem, our staff can provide you with a wide range of women’s healthcare services related to breast and gynecologic cancers.
One of our specially trained nurse practitioners will give you a physical examination. She will feel your breasts and underarms for lumps or anything else unusual. Every woman should see a healthcare professional for this kind of exam every year.
We offer mammography, a procedure that uses x-rays to produce a picture of the breast. Mammography is the most widely used method for detecting breast cancer.
Pelvic Examinations and Pap Smears
During the pelvic examination, a nurse practitioner will gently press on your abdomen to feel the organs in your pelvis (uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, and rectum) for anything unusual about their size or shape. During this exam, she will also take a few cells from your cervix to check for cancer or other conditions, such as sexually transmitted diseases. This test is called a Pap smear.
If the nurse finds a lump or anything else unusual in your breasts or if the results of your Pap smear are not normal, one of our counselors will give you advice about other tests or procedures we may recommend. The counselor will carefully explain the test or procedure to you; she will also advise you about getting a second opinion before choosing treatment. She will encourage you to ask questions and to tell her about any concerns you may have. And she will give you some written material that will help explain these recommendations to you and your family.
Some tests or procedures - such as removal of lumps — are not done at BECH, but we can help you make arrangements for them. If you need one of these tests, your counselor will explain the test to you, give you advice, and discuss any of your questions or concerns. She will also give you information about where you can get these tests — at Harlem Hospital Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering, or another institution. If you wish, she will make the appointment for you.
If all of your test results at BECH are normal, you will be advised to return to us in a year for routine cancer screening. If you are at high risk for developing cancer — because other women in your family have had breast cancer, for instance, or if we’ve recommended more tests — we will set up an appointment for you to come back to us sooner for a follow-up visit. Learn more about hereditary breast cancer.
During your visit to our center, we will show you how to do simple, at-home exams of your breasts every month. We also take our educational programs in breast self-examination (BSE) techniques to many places in the community. Video presentations, workshops, and seminars on BSE and other women’s health issues have been held throughout New York in churches, senior-citizen centers, schools, businesses, street fairs, even detention centers. If you are interested in having us come to your church or other group, please call our health educator at 212-531-8000.