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Couric Urges Doctors to Talk to Patients About Colon Cancer

Couric Urges Doctors to Talk to Patients About Colon Cancer

SAN DIEGO—“More awareness for colorectal cancer can save lives,” Today Show anchor Katie Couric said via live satellite feed to attendees of the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) plenary session, held during the Digestive Disease Week conference.

Ms. Couric, who lost her husband, Jay Monahan, to colon cancer 2 years ago, has become an activist in raising awareness of colorectal cancer. Along with her many segments on the Today Show, she has joined forces with Lilly Tartikoff and the Entertainment Industry Foundation to launch the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance (NCCRA).

She emphasized that awareness alone is not enough. Patients need to hear from their doctors about the need for colorectal cancer screening. She cited a Prevention Magazine study showing that 86% of US adults are aware of colorectal cancer, and a clear majority believe it is a disease that can be cured. “Unfortunately, only 4% of adults think it is likely they will develop the disease, even though it’s the nation’s second leading cause of cancer deaths after lung cancer,” she said.

The most clear-cut call for action, Ms. Couric said, was the statistic from the survey that, even among members of high-risk populations—like blacks or people age 50 and older—patients don’t recall their doctors having a conversation with them about the need for screening for colorectal cancer.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean that general practice doctors aren’t talking with their patients about colorectal cancer,” she said. “It does clearly show that if they are talking with their patients about the disease, the patients aren’t getting the message.”

In fact, 75% said that their doctor has yet to speak with them about colo-rectal cancer. And nearly 70% of people with symptoms of colorectal cancer said that their doctor has not talked with them about the disease. Among blacks, 78% said the same, as did 56% of adults over age 50.

To try to close that gap, Ms. Couric announced a partnership between the NCCRA and the AGA to develop education programs for general practice physicians and primary care doctors to emphasize the need to talk to their patients about colorectal cancer screening. The Merck-sponsored program includes a physician education kit along with materials from other groups.

The biggest hurdle, she added, is embarrassment. “People are embarrassed about colons and rectums. . . . Even some physicians, who you would think have had more than enough exposure to body parts . . . seem to be embarrassed about discussing this disease, which occurs ‘down there.’ I hope that by working together we can convince the public and primary care physicians that we can’t afford to let people die of embarrassment.”

 
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