Katie Couric Calls Breast Cancer Diagnosis ‘Teachable Moment’

By Steve Blanchard - October 06, 2022

Journalist Katie Couric, who famously shared the importance of colon cancer screenings while a host of Today, has a new teachable moment for women: Get your breast cancer screening mammogram.

Couric, 65, wrote on her website that she was diagnosed with breast cancer on the first day of summer and had her final radiation treatment in late September.

"My left breast does feel like I've been sunbathing topless, but other than that, I've felt fine," she wrote.

Couric said that her mammogram was delayed about six months, which is a common trend among women due to the pandemic, said Dr. Bethany Niell, section chief of Breast Imaging at Moffitt Cancer Center.

“While we have seen some patients return to their cancer screenings, we are still not back to our pre-pandemic levels,” Niell said. “And even during our pre-pandemic levels, we were missing three to four out of every 10 patients who should have been getting a screening mammogram.”

Couric said that she hopes sharing her diagnosis so publicly will motivate women to get screened for breast cancer.

"Since I'm the 'screen queen' of colon cancer, it seemed odd not to use this as another teachable moment that could save someone's life,” Couric wrote. “I was six months late this time. I shudder to think what might have happened if I had put it off longer.”

Moffitt, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and American College of Radiology recommend annual (once every year) screening for women with an average breast cancer risk beginning at age 40. Those with risk factors, like a family history of the disease, should speak to their doctor about starting routine screenings even earlier.

The former host of CBS Evening News said she recorded her mammogram and breast biopsy with the intention of sharing it with followers, but her doctor asked her to turn off the cameras when she told her that a biopsy was necessary.

After her diagnosis, Couric shared that she was stunned by the news.

“I think those words, ‘It’s cancerous or you have cancer’ do stop you in your tracks,” she said.

When Couric’s doctor told her the cancer was treatable, they made a plan, which included a lumpectomy.

Approximately 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. When it is found early, the prognosis is usually good with appropriate treatment. Screening mammograms decrease unnecessary breast cancer deaths by finding breast cancers early.

Screening mammograms are fairly straightforward and can be done within an hour in most cases.

Half of that time is usually split between paperwork and the actual mammogram. At Moffitt, screening mammograms are performed with digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), also sometimes called a 3D mammogram. Screening with tomosynthesis finds more cancers and decreases the chance that a woman will be recalled for additional imaging. Mammography results are communicated to patients with a mailed letter from the breast radiologist.

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"The message here is to please get your regular screening mammograms. If you’ve delayed due to the pandemic, now is the time to come back in and see us."

- Dr. Bethany Niell, section chief of breast imaging at Moffitt

“The message here is to please get your regular screening mammograms. If you’ve delayed due to the pandemic, now is the time to come back in and see us,” Niell said.

Stories like Couric’s will hopefully continue to convince women about the importance of screening and early detection and her story is proof that catching breast cancer early is key to survival.

“I just feel super lucky that it was diagnosed when it was,” Couric said.

 

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