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Posted 3/3/2004 1:54 PM
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Nicole Kidman fashions fight against women’s cancers
After attending the glamour of the Academy Awards and Oscar parties, Nicole Kidman spent the following day with her children, reflecting on the joys of being a mother. A few hours later Kidman was focused on helping other mothers enjoy their health.

"Whether you give money or time doing volunteer work, I think we're here on this planet to give to each other," says Kidman, who won a best actress Oscar for The Hours. "The Women's Cancer Research Fund is a great way to help not just women but families and husbands and sons and daughters by keeping the women in their lives healthy and cancer-free."

The Entertainment Industry Foundation's Women's Cancer Research Fund honored Kidman with the 2004 Courage Award at Saks Fifth Avenue's Unforgettable Evening Monday night at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Kidman's award recognizes the actress and mother's extensive experience with breast cancer, serving as an EIF ambassador for Saks Fifth Avenue's Key to the Cure Initiative and as the first Board Chair of the Women's Health Fund at UCLA. She is the first ambassador for the Women's Cancer Research Fund.

"This event isn't about me but really the people who are working so hard to find a cure for breast cancer and ovarian cancer," states Kidman, whose father is a breast cancer researcher. "I feel very strongly about supporting women's health issues and bringing more and more attention to them."

According to the Women's Cancer Network, attention is needed. This year there will be:

• 211,300 new cases of breast cancer and 39,800 deaths

• 40,100 new cases of uterine cancer and 6,800 deaths

• 25,400 new cases of ovarian and 14,300 deaths

• 12,200 new cases of cervical cancer and 4,100 deaths

'Cause celeb'

Kidman is all too aware of the destruction caused by breast cancer. She has lost friends to breast cancer and her experience watching her mother fight the disease deeply affected her and strengthened her resolve.

"I was with her through her battle with it when I was 17 years old," Kidman says. "I think that imprinted on me for the rest of my life. Seeing her go through that pain and also seeing her strength and her grace gave me my commitment to this cause for the rest of my life."

Joining Kidman to raise $1.8 million for the WCRF were honorary chairs Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks, Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg.

"We've looked forward to this evening but we look forward much more to the day when we won't have to have a fun evening together like this one," Hanks told attendees.

Other Hollywood luminaries supporting the cause included Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta Jones, Kirk and Anne Douglas, Lisa Kudrow, Natalie Cole, Fran Drescher, Liv Tyler, Tom Arnold and music performers Christina Aguilera and Tom Jones.

"I am a survivor myself and tonight we hope to share this possibility with even more women facing cancer diagnoses," says Anne Douglas, one of the event chairs. "The money raised tonight will fund the Women's Cancer Research Fund's research in developing better treatments for all women's cancers."

"The entire country flipped about Janet Jackson's breast being exposed during the Super Bowl show," says Best Damn Sports Show host Tom Arnold. "If the country would get just as flipped out about breast cancer, we could cure this disease a lot sooner."

Fran Drescher knows how desperately needed new treatments and diagnostics are for women's cancers. The former star of The Nanny survived a life-threatening battle with uterine cancer.

"Currently, there just are not enough cancer screening tests available for women in basic gynecologic healthcare," Drescher notes. "Early detection equals survival but if we don't get routinely checked for ovarian and uterine cancer we won't find out until the late stages and that's a problem."

But new diagnostic breakthroughs are emerging.

"One of the first keys in this fight is the DNA with Pap test – that is the best, nearly 100% foolproof test for cervical cancer," states Drescher, who chronicled her cancer experience in her book Cancer Schmancer. "As a result we can eradicate cervical cancer if women know to ask their doctor for this test. Next we hope there's as effective a test for ovarian and uterine cancer."

Magic marker

To help create better early detection for other female cancers, money raised from EIF's and Saks Fifth Avenue's Unforgettable Evening will support scientists who are part of the WCRF's Biomarker Discovery Project.

"The best way to treat cancers begins with detecting them early," states Richard Klausner, a cancer specialist and former director of the National Cancer Institute. "The new DNA PAP test looks very encouraging. Knowing that cervical cancer is unusual in that it is caused by a specific virus, you can detect the DNA of that virus — that is a superb biomarker for that cancer. And this is the type of biomarker that makes the promise of really good, accurate and reliable early detection for other cancers so exciting to all of us."

The WCRF has assembled a dream team of 16 renowned scientists from leading institutions across the country to develop a "perfect biomarker test" that indicates definitively whether or not a woman has cancer.

"The goal would be to develop something like a blood test with the idea that you could detect cancer very early in its development – way before you can detect or physically feel a mass," explains Klausner, who is also executive director of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The hypothesis is if the molecular changes that are responsible for an early cancer produce a unique signature it should be able to be detected if the scientists can identify what to look for.

"We know something's there but we don't yet know what to ask about it," Klausner says. "With the completion of the Human Genome Project we can now systematically search for all of the molecular signatures that distinguish an incredibly early cancer – even a pre-cancer – from a normal cell."

According to Klausner, if scientists can catalogue and identify the early molecular changes that are absolutely characteristic of a cancer and that absolutely distinguish it from a normal cell, the WCRF group will know what to look for.

A breast cancer marker is the first goal.

"Hundreds of thousands of women each year in the US alone are newly diagnosed with women's cancers, the vast majority is breast cancer," Klausner states. "Our goal is intense focus and breast cancer was determined to be our best candidate. Our hope is that this work will translate directly to early detection of other cancers."

Kidman is equally hopeful.

"I am excited by any research that moves this cause forward," Kidman says. "It is so important. Early detection and getting regular mammograms can make the difference in survival. It's important to never forget that these women are not statistics. They are mothers, sisters, and children."

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