Breast Cancer Advocate Evelyn Lauder Dies of Ovarian Cancer

Everyone knows what “pink ribbons” signify. Breast cancer.

But do you know who is responsible for making pink ribbons the so readily identifiable symbol it is?

That would be Evelyn Lauder, daughter-in-law of cosmetics giant Esteé Lauder. Ms. Lauder died yesterday at the age of 75 of non-genetic ovarian cancer.

Wife, Businesswoman, Cancer Survivor and Advocate

As a child, Evelyn and her family fled Nazi-occupied Austria and came to live in New York City. There she met her future husband, Leonard, son of Esteé Lauder. After their marriage, she became active in then fledgling cosmetics company, naming the Clinique line and becoming the Head of Fragrance Development Worldwide .

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989. That year, she spearheaded a fund-drive that brought in $18 million dollars to establish the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. The Center, which opened in 1992, was the first to incorporate both diagnostic and treatment services into one center.

In 1992, she and friend Alexandra Penney, the editor of Self Magazine, created the pink ribbon which has become the worldwide symbol of breast health.  And in 1993, she founded  The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, a nonprofit which has since raised more than $350 million to fight the disease.

Ms. Lauder was diagnosed with non-genetic ovarian cancer in 2007. She died at home with her family in NYC. A statement on the BCRF website says:

The Breast Cancer Research Foundation mourns the loss of our visionary Founder and Chairman, Evelyn Lauder. Her passionate action and determination to imporve the health of women and their families led her to establish BCRF. Her single-minded dedication to finding a cure for breast cancer never wavered.

What do I need to know about Ovarian Cancer?

What is it?

The ovaries are a pair of oval shaped organs in a woman’s pelvis. They are responsible for the production of eggs, as well as the female reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian cancer is a cancer which starts in the cells of the ovaries. There are three main types of ovarian cancer, based on the kind of ovarian cell in which the tumor begins:

  • Epithelial cell cancer—Epithelial cells cover the surface of the ovary. Eighty-five to ninety percent of ovarian cancer cases are this type.
  • Germ cell cancer—Germ cells are the cells in the ovary that develop into eggs. This type of cancer is more common in younger women and usually has a high cure rate.
  • Stromal cell cancer—Stromal cell cancer occurs in the connective tissue, which provides the internal structure of the ovary. It also has a high cure rate.

Important statistics:

It is estimated that 21,990 women will be diagnosed with and 15,460 women will die of cancer of the ovary in 2011.

It accounts for approximately 3 percent of all cancers in women and is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women in the United States.

It has the highest mortality of all cancers of the female reproductive system. This reflects, in part, a lack of early symptoms and effective ovarian cancer screening tests. Thus, ovarian cancer is often diagnosed at an advanced stage, after the cancer has spread beyond the ovary. White women have higher incidence and mortality rates than women of other racial and ethnic groups.

What are the risk factors?

  • Family history of cancer: Women who have a mother, daughter, or sister with ovarian cancer have an increased risk of the disease. Also, women with a family history of cancer of the breast, uterus, colon, or rectum may also have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Personal history of cancer: Women who have had cancer of the breast, uterus, colon, or rectum have a higher risk.
  • Age over 55: Most women are over age 55 when diagnosed.
  • Never pregnant: Older women who have never been pregnant.
  • Menopausal hormone therapy: Some studies have suggested that women who take estrogen by itself (estrogen without progesterone) for 10 or more years may have an increased risk.

What are the symptoms?

Early ovarian cancer may not cause obvious symptoms. But, as the cancer grows, symptoms may include:

  • Pressure or pain in the abdomen, pelvis, back, or legs
  • A swollen or bloated abdomen
  • Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Feeling very tired all the time

What is the role of genetics in Ovarian Cancer?

Some ovarian cancers are caused by inherited gene mutations (changes).

The genes in cells carry the hereditary information that is received from a person’s parents. Hereditary ovarian cancer makes up approximately 5% to 10% of all cases of ovarian cancer. Three hereditary patterns have been identified: ovarian cancer alone, ovarian and breast cancers, and ovarian and colon cancers.

Tests that can detect mutated genes have been developed. These genetic tests are sometimes done for members of families with a high risk of cancer.

Some women who have an increased risk of ovarian cancer may choose to have a prophylactic oophorectomy (the removal of healthy ovaries so that cancer cannot grow in them). In high-risk women, this procedure has been shown to greatly decrease the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

What is the treatment and prognosis?

The prognosis and treatment of ovarian cancer, like all other cancers, depends on the stage of the cancer at the time it is diagnosed. Tumors found early before they have spread have the best prognoses. Treatment typically includes surgery to remove the tumors and then chemotherapy to eliminate any microscopic tumor cells to prevent a recurrence.

Celebrities with Ovarian Cancer


  • Kathy Bates, 63, Oscar-winning American actress
  • Carol Channing, 90, American stage and musical comedy actress
  • Shannon Miller, 34, American Olympic gold-medalist gymnast
  • Bess Myerson, 87, Miss America in 1945


  • Ann Dunham (1942-1995), mother of Barack Obama (died age 52)
  • Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958), British physical chemist and crystallographer, co-discoverer of the double helix shape of DNA (died age 37)
  • Ella Grasso (1919-1981), American politician; first woman ever to be elected a state governor in the United States in her own right (died age 61)
  • Madeline Kahn (1942-1999), American actress, singer and comedienne (died age 57)
  • Coretta Scott King (1927-2006), American civil rights activist (died age 78)
  • Gilda Radner (1946-1989), American actress/comedienne (Saturday Night Live) (died age 42)
  • Dinah Shore (1916-1994), American singer and actress (died age 77)
  • Jessica Tandy (1909-1994), Oscar-winning (Driving Miss Daisy) British-born American stage and film actress (died age 85)


Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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