Barbra Streisand on gender inequality and the 'ladykiller'

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Barbra Streisand grew up thinking she wanted her name in lights. Now, what gives her the greatest joy is seeing her name in metal on the side of one special building: the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai hospital.

Streisand along with friend Ronald O. Perelman of the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute are dedicated to spreading the word about women's heart disease.

She recently took the stage for an interview with Gayle King at a Hearst MasterClass to announce her and Perelman's new campaign, "Fight the Ladykiller" in conjunction with the Women's Heart Alliance.

The singer stressed that the disease has long been overshadowed by cancer campaigns and is often thought of as a "man's disease," when in reality, it is the leading killer among women.

When asked about her connection to the cause, Barbra shared that she's always been a fighter for gender equality and her focus on women with this condition falls right in line.

Find out Streisand's prediction for the future of the disease, her advice for staying healthy and the most staggering statistics she can't get out of her head in AOL's interview with her and Perelman in the slideshow below.

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Barbra Streisand on gender inequality and the 'ladykiller'
What got you interested in women's heart disease in the first place?

Barbra Streisand: I have always been passionate about gender equality, and when I learned there was grave gender disparity in heart disease research, funding and treatment (even when more women than men die of heart disease), I wanted to get involved and do more. The tipping point for me came when I learned that even though women's hearts are physiologically different than men's, most heart disease research is conducted on men. Therefore, women's hearts are under-researched, go untreated, and are often misdiagnosed. That's the reason that every minute a woman dies of heart disease. It's unacceptable that women are still being treated as second class citizens.

Ronald Perelman: I've had a long-standing interest in health care research and treatment and women's health. I founded the Ronald O. Perelman and Claudia Cohen Center for Reproductive Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical Center and the Revlon/UCLA Women's Cancer Research Program, which developed the most effective treatment for breast cancer, Herceptin. Because heart disease is a leading killer of men and women, I established the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital to bring the latest research, technology and treatment to this terrible disease. When Barbra and I started talking specifically about women's heart disease, it didn't make any sense to me that we weren't investing in women-focused research when women make up more than half the population and heart disease is their number one killer.

Image Credit: Getty

Was there a moment that took you from consideration to action? 

BS: When I heard the staggering facts -- like heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined -- I was shocked and knew I had to do something. That's when I helped create the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute. Women are the center of the family, and every woman lost is someone's mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt or friend, but too few women know they need to be fighting back or how. They need to ask their doctors for a heart check, they need to advocate for more research funding for women's heart disease, and they need to take care of themselves.

RP: One of the cardiologists at the Heart Institute, Dr. Holly Andersen, shared with me the stories of countless women whose heart disease had been ignored or dismissed by other healthcare providers -- dismissed as being anxiety, stress or indigestion. I couldn't believe it. Research has shown that along the entire spectrum of care, men are consistently treated more aggressively than women. And that leads to more needless deaths among women. As things go, this led me to support the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute as a founding patron. From there, Barbra and I put our heads together on a plan to do more.

BS: That's when we joined forces with our respective heart centers and created the Women's Heart Alliance.

Image Credit: Getty

What health habits do you practice as a result of understanding the risk factors and preventive measures that can be taken?

BS: I love food and it's a constant struggle to not eat things that aren't good for me. I make an effort to avoid red meat as much as possible and eat more fruits and vegetables.

RP: I've always been careful about my diet. I try to limit unhealthy food choices and exercise regularly. I also provide healthy food choices for our employees.

Image Credit: Getty

What are your personal goals for the Fight the Ladykiller campaign and your heart centers?

BS: I hope we empower women to take action to fight heart disease. If we can increase the number of women who are taking the critical step of getting heart checked and drive more research dollars to focus on women's heart disease, we will have succeeded.

RP: More funding and research is needed to change the women's heart disease story in this country. Congress can allocate more research dollars to women's heart disease. My hope is that through our work and collaboration with other organizations that have been fighting this fight, we get more funds allocated to women-focused heart disease research.

Image Credit: Getty

Where do you think we could be with progress in fighting the disease in the next 50 years?

BS: Over the past several decades, breast cancer has gone from a similarly stigmatized disease to a well-known, well-researched, hard fought disease. We can take heart disease to that same place in the next 50 years. In my lifetime, I hope to see the inequality ended -- women's hearts will be studied, women will be offered treatments specifically for them, and the differences in women's hearts will be recognized. And, most importantly, we will not continue to lose the women we love from this killer.

RP: In my lifetime, I hope to see the number of female participants in heart disease research equal that of male participants. In the next 50 years, I think we will see the trends change for women's heart disease. If we are successful, we will see new treatments for women, more people talking about the disease and more people taking action. The net result will be a significant reduction in heart disease deaths among women.

Image Credit: Getty

What progress thus far has been the most exciting to you?

BS: We spent a day on Capitol Hill this past June and met with the House and Senate women's caucuses, Congressional leadership, and the leaders of the CDC, NIH and FDA. Hearing them share our shock and outrage, as well as offer support, made me think we could really make a difference with this effort.

RP: A year ago, the Women's Heart Alliance was nothing more than an idea for Barbra and me. Now one year later, we're unveiling a new organization and launching our first campaign, Fight the Ladykiller. We're just getting started.

Image Credit: Getty

Why do you think the disease has become associated more with men than women?

BS: Women's heart disease isn't talked about. In a survey we recently conducted, we found that 76 percent of women say they rarely or never discuss heart disease with their friends or family. And 24 percent of women even agree that heart disease is embarrassing.

RP: Before 1984, heart disease was a man's disease. But since that time, more women than men have died from heart disease. The "Hollywood Heart Attack" gives people the image of a man dramatically clutching his chest and falling over when he's having a heart attack. When many women experience symptoms like extreme fatigue, indigestion, cold sweat or pain in the jaw or back, people don't associate that with a heart attack.

Image Credit: Getty

Why is it important to you to have research and treatment dedicated to women specifically?

BS: A woman's heart is different than a man's. Our arteries, heart size and valves are among the physical differences. Heart disease also affects us differently. Plaque, for example, distributes in clumps in men's arteries, whereas in women it distributes evenly throughout the artery walls. This leads to women's test results often being misinterpreted as "normal."

RP: For the past 50 years, women's heart disease treatment has largely been based on medical research on men. Only 24 percent of participants in all heart-related studies have been women. It's time we start offering women treatments that have been proven to work on women.

Image Credit: Getty
What is your advice to women who have never thought twice about the disease?

BS: All women should #getHeartChecked. It's a simple conversation with your healthcare provider and a series of screenings and measures-like blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar levels-that will help your provider determine your 10-year and lifetime risk for heart disease. Look at the Women's Heart Alliance website, we make it simple.

RP: Don't think you are immune to heart disease. This Ladykiller doesn't discriminate based on age, race, income or culture. All women should take action. All women should #getHeartChecked.

Image Credit: Getty

Are there any staggering statistics that have really stuck with you?

BS: Heart disease kills more women than men, and more women than all cancers combined. We lose one woman every minute to heart disease. It truly is the Ladykiller.

RP: I was most surprised at how little our country spends looking at women's heart disease. Only a small fraction ($246 million) of the National Institutes of Health budget is spent studying women's heart disease. In comparison, $959 million is spent on women's cancer research.

Image Credit: Getty

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