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Katie Couric Makes Health Headlines

The CBS Evening News anchor is committed to broadcasting her passion for prevention, new research, and resources.

Fighting Cancer Behind the Scenes

After her husband's death, Couric used the connections she had made during her years in broadcasting to strengthen the fight against the nation's top two cancer killers -- lung and colorectal cancer. She teamed up with Lilly Tartikoff (whose husband, NBC President Brandon Tartikoff, died of Hodgkin's disease at age 48) and the Entertainment Industry Foundation, the philanthropic heart of the entertainment industry, to form the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance in 2000. The NCCRA has recruited the country's top minds in science and medicine to work together toward creating more effective, less invasive diagnostic screenings and, eventually, finding a cure.

Since then, NCCRA public education initiatives and Couric's own colonoscopy on Today in 2000 have encouraged people to get screened. Right after her televised procedure and for a few subsequent months, colonoscopy screening in the United States jumped by nearly 20%. University of Michigan researchers, who studied the increase, nicknamed it "The Couric Effect." And according to the American Cancer Society, the colon cancer death rate dropped by more than that of any other major cancer in 2003-2004.

The message is clear: Educating the public that colon cancer can be detected, prevented, and often cured has saved lives.

This sounds like a simple formula, but the business of empowering consumers about their health isn't always straightforward, and Couric says the media are sometimes to blame. "Often media go for the quick headline, and it's our responsibility to put it in perspective and not misrepresent studies," she says. "The tendency is to present these issues in black-and-white terms, and that often isn't the case."

Another media misstep is presenting medical news in doctor-speak. As something of a self-taught medical expert, thanks to her endless hours of research when Monahan was sick, Couric has a knack for explaining complex medical stories in layperson's terms. "I had to quickly learn extremely complicated medical concepts, and I had to learn how to ask the right questions," she says. "I think I was able to synthesize these concepts and distill them for myself, and that helps me explain them to others."

Couric is interested in almost any medical issue, and she sees it as her job to attack misconceptions about medicine and share reliable information in an easily digestible way. She now has several platforms in which to do that: her 22-minute evening broadcast; the Couric & Co. blog (on which she covers everything from her minister's sermon about doubt and questioning, to how to go green in your home); and online outlets such as YouTube, where her exclusive interview last October with Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's, has been viewed by more than a half million people. (CBS has also teamed with WebMD's team of journalists to find and develop the best health news for her broadcast.)

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