When NBC television personality Katie Couric underwent a colonoscopy live on national TV in March 2000, she did more than show the world the insides of her bowels. Couric, whose husband died from colon cancer at age 42, also significantly raised the rate at which Americans signed up for a colon-cancer screening. In a study that appears in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, a team of researchers from Michigan and Iowa reports that colonoscopy rates across the U.S. jumped more than 20% following Couric's examination.
And that may translate into saved lives. More than 130,000 Americans this year will be found to have colon cancer, and more than 56,000 will die from the disease, making it the second leading cause of cancer deaths, according to the National Cancer Institute. Many of these deaths could have been avoided if people were not so squeamish about undergoing colonoscopy, which is what makes the "Katie Couric effect," as researchers have dubbed it, so important. --By David Bjerklie