A performance of the first movement of Mendelssohn’s String Octet in E Flat Major, Opus 20, by internationally acclaimed violinist Itzhak Perlman and seven of his students was the highlight of an October 5 reception celebrating the opening of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s new breast and imaging center. At the music’s conclusion, Memorial Sloan Kettering Physician-in-Chief Robert E. Wittes was moved to observe that “these wonderful musicians are not a bad metaphor for the complexity of what will happen in this building — groups of people doing different things, but always playing together.”
“This extraordinary new building is going to house some of our most important programs,” added Memorial Sloan Kettering President Harold Varmus, “extending our ability to be excellent as providers of care for patients with breast cancer and as medical imagers. We are deeply grateful to Evelyn and Leonard Lauder for their remarkable generosity and vision.”
The culmination of 20 years of development, the 16-story building at 300 East 66th Street houses the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Imaging Center. The breast center — triple the size of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s first breast center, which opened in 1992 — will offer patients the most advanced outpatient services for the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. The imaging center will offer leading-edge diagnostic and treatment planning services for many types of cancer. “Evelyn and Leonard Lauder not only provided the critical funding, the idea, and the passion behind the building,” remarked Douglas A. Warner, III, Chairman of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Boards of Overseers and Managers, “but they offered endless encouragement and expertise in areas both big and small.”
“Medicine is an art, and this building is about art in the deepest, richest sense — art that reaches out to help people to heal,” said Larry Norton, Deputy Physician-in-Chief for Breast Cancer Programs and Medical Director of the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center. “The beauty of the place is not just to be beautiful, it’s to tell patients how important they are to us. Every detail is oriented in that direction.” Dr. Norton went on to emphasize that the facility “was built to provide beyond state-of-the-art care and to constantly pioneer new ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent this disease. Our goal is not simply to treat more patients but to cure breast cancer.”
Hedvig Hricak, Chair of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Department of Radiology, echoed Dr. Norton. “We not only practice state of the art — we strive to be a few steps ahead. We are committed to excellence in patient care and research that spans basic, translational, and clinical investigations. As a result, we are able to translate advances into clinical care and make these available to patients before many other institutions.”
Patient convenience and comfort are hallmarks of the breast and imaging center, along with the flexibility to adapt to changes in the way cancer is diagnosed and treated. “If there’s one thing we know about what is going to happen to cancer management over the lifetime of this building, it’s that it’s going to change,” said Dr. Wittes. “This new facility will be able to adapt to those changes.”
The evolving modalities in the treatment of breast cancer that the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center will accommodate include new diagnostic technologies, less invasive surgery, molecular pathology, more effective chemotherapies, new targeted treatments, vaccine development, and an emphasis on prevention. “The new center is warm, comfortable, efficient, and designed around our patients,” commented Clifford A. Hudis, Chief of the Breast Cancer Medicine Service. “But its deeper beauty derives not from its appearance but from what it enables and facilitates — the rapid translation of exciting laboratory advances into meaningful advances for patients with cancer. The patient-centered design and efficient architecture — to which our entire team contributed — makes it much easier for multidisciplinary caregivers and investigators to deliver compassionate care while conducting the research that will improve care in the future.”
Added Dr. Norton, “The reason this building works is that every part of it was designed by the people who will be using it.”
“The proximity of key faculty in surgery, medical oncology, breast imaging, and pathology allows us to resolve complicated patient problems much more rapidly,” expanded Monica Morrow, Chief of the Breast Service. “And being together in both our clinical practices and academic offices promotes research collaboration.”
The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Imaging Center offers two floors of diagnostic imaging and treatment planning services for breast and a range of other cancers. The technology includes equipment used in primary breast cancer detection, such as digital mammography units, a stereotactic biopsy unit, and ultrasound units. In addition, there is the equipment needed for breast cancer staging and the detection of metastatic disease, including two 64-slice CT scanners — which use CT radiation reduction protocols — one SPECT/CT scanner, one 1.5-T and two 3-T MRI scanners, and a PET/CT scanner.
“Having everything — and everyone — under one roof offers a continuum of care, from initial diagnosis to the evaluation of treatment response, and will foster even stronger collaborations and innovations in clinical research,” said Dr. Hricak. “Working as a team in this environment will facilitate cross-fertilization of knowledge and a shift from the one-size-fits-all approach to a new, biology-driven paradigm of personalized medicine. In addition to serum and tissue biomarkers, imaging biomarkers will help in selecting the most effective therapies for individual patients. We will see a surge of new ideas and collaborations,” Dr. Hricak predicted.
“The increased space for breast imaging allows us to provide more same-day service for diagnostic imaging studies,” Dr. Morrow observed, “so we can develop a plan and proceed to treatment more rapidly, reducing patient anxiety.”
“This is a home — a home for patients who will find the best care they can get anywhere,” said Memorial Sloan Kettering Board member and philanthropist Evelyn H. Lauder. “It is also a home for the physicians, the nurses, and the entire staff. And it’s a home for the art that will help patients feel relaxed.”
The building includes more than 450 pieces of original artwork. Much of the collection was either donated or secured by Mrs. Lauder. A wide range of artwork — created by internationally recognized artists as well as by employees of Memorial Sloan Kettering — hangs in every waiting room, hallway, and examination, treatment, and changing room. The collection is composed primarily of photographs but also features paintings, prints, works on paper, and sculpture. “I have a strong belief in the healing power of beauty in nature,” Mrs. Lauder said, “and have selected works that convey a peaceful, uplifting vision of the natural world.”
Her vision is also reflected in the warm, natural hues and natural light that have been employed throughout the center to create soothing surroundings for patients and family members. Easing the patient experience still further are patient waiting rooms separated from busy reception areas, 20 private treatment suites where chemotherapy is administered, and a covered driveway where patients can be dropped off and picked up away from traffic.
Mrs. Lauder extended Dr. Wittes’ musical analogy when describing the new facility. “Whenever there was a crescendo coming in the Mendelssohn, I thought the end was near. But there was more. And then there was another crescendo and what I thought would be an ending, but there was still more. I think that’s a wonderful metaphor for the kind of research that is being done in all cancer, and especially in breast cancer. Every time a new discovery is made, another step has to be studied. This is the place where that will happen. This building offers wonderful opportunities for healing from a psychological, poetic, and scientific point of view. It is a dream come true.”
The 236,900-square-foot breast and imaging center was constructed under the direction of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Facilities Management Department. The facilities project team included Granary Associates, Perkins Eastman Architects, and Turner Construction Company.
Breast and Imaging Center Services
Patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering’s breast and imaging center are cared for by a multidisciplinary staff of more than 200 healthcare professionals. The full range of outpatient services includes:
- Medical oncology
- Surgical services
- Pathology, with two full-time pathologists on site
- Social work
- Sexual health
- Special Surveillance Program, for women at high risk for breast cancer
- Nutrition counseling
- Genetics counseling
- Integrative medicine services, including acupuncture, massage, and yoga
- Rehabilitation and occupational therapy, with a focus on lymphedema therapy
- Boutique offering head coverings, prosthetics, bathing suits, and accessories
- Patient education library
- Art therapy