Christina Applegate Helps Raise $1.4 Million for Siteman

Jason Merrill

May 19, 2009 – Actress Christina Applegate may be well-known for her comedy skills, but a growing part of her life is her devotion to cancer awareness. That devotion helped the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation raise more than $1.4 million as she emceed the 10th annual illumination gala on May 16 at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton.

The gala supports the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine and its research efforts into personalized cancer treatment, which involves tailoring cancer patients’ care based on the genetics of their disease.

Genetics played a role in Applegate’s breast cancer diagnosis, she told attendees at the illumination event. While she has outlined her story to select media, the gala marked the first time she told her story to an audience.

“I’ve been very public with my breast cancer bout and how genetic testing changed the course of my treatments,” Applegate said. “I have a responsibility to educate others.”

The 37-year-old actress – known for her roles on “Married . With Children,” “Anchorman” and “Samantha Who?” – made headlines in 2008 when she announced she was fighting breast cancer. While only 5 percent to 10 percent of cancers occur as a result of hereditary factors passed on in families, in Applegate’s case, she inherited the BRCA-2 gene from her mother, giving her a high risk for cancer in her own life.

“My mother’s battle began when I was 7 years old,” Applegate said. “Watching her go through breast cancer and then ovarian cancer in 1995 and seeing her be so incredibly strong made me know there was something on the other end.”

Knowing she was at high risk, Applegate began getting mammograms at age 30, a full decade earlier than those at normal risk. At the suggestion of her physician, a follow-up MRI detected her breast cancer last summer. The cancer was small enough that a lumpectomy without chemotherapy was an option. However, knowing her genetic risk, Applegate elected to undergo a more aggressive treatment – removing both breasts through radical mastectomy.

As a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Siteman Cancer Center is the only cancer center in St. Louis and one of a few in the nation currently offering personalized medicine for some forms of leukemia and lung, colon, breast and thyroid cancer.

“We can’t treat patients with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ attitude,” says medical oncologist A. Craig Lockhart, MD, MHS, director of developmental therapeutics at the Siteman Cancer Center. “Personalizing care is the way of the future.”

Experts say more research – and more research dollars – will be needed across the broad spectrum of cancers. Appelgate’s efforts at the illumination gala helped make that happen.

“That MRI changed my life,” Applegate said. “A couple of years ago, I never thought I’d be speaking like this, but the meaning of your life needs to change after cancer.”