Understanding Katie Couric's Cancer Journey
- Katie Couric was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 21, 2022. She's since undergone a lumpectomy and radiation treatment, but she'll need to take an aromatase inhibitor for five years.
- An aromatase inhibitor is a drug used to block the activity of the aromatase enzyme and, consequently, stop the body from producing the hormone estrogen.
- Monitoring is essential after breast cancer treatment, but it’s important to remember that most early-stage, non-metastatic breast cancer patients never see their disease return after treatment. Breast cancer survivors can expect to see their doctor every three to four months in the years immediately following treatment.
Katie Couric’s Cancer Announcement
Couric announced her breast cancer diagnosis on Sept. 28 in an essay for Katie Couric Media.Read More
Her mother battled mantle cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that was "kept at bay for a decade," her father had prostate cancer that was successfully treated with "radioactive seeds," her mother -in-law died of ovarian cancer, her sister Emily died of pancreatic cancer at 54, her first husband, Jay Monahan, died of colon cancer in 1998 and her current husband, John Molner, 59, had to have a coconut-sized tumor removed from his liver in 2014. Thankfully, Molner remains cancer-free today.
"Given my family's history of cancer, why would I be spared?" she wrote. "My reaction went from 'Why me?' to 'Why not me?’"
She seems to be doing well now, but Couric is determined to talk about her cancer journey to help others understand the importance of screening and knowing if you have dense breasts.
"Please get your annual mammogram," she wrote in her essay. "I was six months late this time. I shudder to think what might have happened if I had put it off longer.
"But just as importantly, please find out if you need additional screening."
What Does Her Ongoing Treatment Look Like?
As mentioned before, Couric needs to take an aromatase inhibitor for five years. An aromatase inhibitor is a drug used to block the activity of the aromatase enzyme and, consequently, stop the body from producing the hormone estrogen.
“The way it works is that it’s used only in women who are post-menopausal so their ovaries are shut down or asleep but there’s still a little bit of hormone made in the body by an enzyme called aromatase,” Dr. Erica Mayer, a medical oncologist and a clinical investigator in the Breast Oncology Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, previously told SurvivorNet. “The aromatase inhibitor shuts down that enzyme so it takes the hormone level in the body as close down to zero as we can.”
Since Katie Couric’s cancer is hormone receptor positive, that means her cancer cells use estrogen, progesterone or both to grow and replicate. So, you can see why it an aromatase inhibitor would be helpful in her case.
We don’t know what kind of aromatase inhibitor she is specifically taking, but examples of these drugs include: anastrozole (Arimidex), letrozole (Femara) and exemestane (Aromasin). All of these drugs are taken in the form of pills once a day. Many women don't have any side effects when taking these drugs, but some may experience hot flashes, joint stiffness or achiness.
What Does Monitoring Look Like For Breast Cancer Patients Like Katie Couric?
Monitoring is essential after breast cancer treatment, but it’s important to remember that most early-stage, non-metastatic breast cancer patients never see their disease return after treatment. Sadly, however, some breast cancer survivors do see their disease return.
“Remission’s a complicated word to use with breast cancer, because we hope that the women that we treat with early-stage non-metastatic breast cancer are cured,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a medical advisor to SurvivorNet, previously told SurvivorNet. “But we know that breast cancer can come back years, even decades later.”
That’s why breast cancer survivors undergo monitoring. Dr. Comen says patients can expect to see their doctor every three to four months in the years immediately following treatment.
“In the beginning, when a woman has recently completed her treatment, I usually see women every three to four months to do a breast exam,” Dr. Comen said. “They will get imaging every year or every six months, depending on in conjunction with the surgeon or radiologist what may or may not be appropriate for imaging.
“We may do blood work about once a year…. And of course, when I’m seeing patients every three to four months I will be doing an exam, but also asking them how they feel.”
When having a follow-up appointment as a breast cancer survivor, it’s important to share any unusual or relentless symptoms you’ve been experiencing. That being said, most aches and pains are just a part of normal life. But symptoms that don’t seem to go away may be cause for concern.
“Do they have a pain that hasn’t gone away in months? Or do they have shoulder pain every now and again when they play tennis but it goes away, it gets better and it comes back months later, and then gets better?” Dr. Comen explained. “There are different types of aches and pains that we think about and that we look for with patients.”