Katie Couric revealed she was treated for breast cancer and...

Katie Couric revealed she was treated for breast cancer and that her prognosis is good. Credit: Invision / AP / Evan Agostini

Revealing she was successfully treated for breast cancer this summer, broadcast journalist Katie Couric decried health system inequities that have created "a de facto caste system" putting detection and treatment out of many women's reach.

"[O]nly 14 states and the District of Columbia require insurance companies to fully or partially reimburse patients for the cost of potentially lifesaving breast ultrasounds," the former "CBS Evening News" anchor and "Today" co-host, 65, wrote Wednesday in an essay on her website. "That means far too many women are not benefiting from a technology that will allow their breast cancer to be diagnosed early, when it's most treatable."

After learning in May she was overdue for a mammogram — an X-ray used to detect early signs of breast cancer — Couric went in for the common procedure on June 20. She had a technician begin "recording the screening to share with my audience. … You might remember I aired my colonoscopy on the 'Today' show in 2000. After that segment, the number of people getting colonoscopies increased by 20 percent."

Couric's gynecologist used "a state-of-the-art 3D mammogram machine," the journalist wrote. "Compared to a standard mammogram, the 3D model gives clinicians a more complete view of the breast tissue. … Because my breasts are dense, I routinely get an additional screening using a breast ultrasound." Her doctor then left the room to check the results. "When she came back, she asked us to stop filming" and said Couric would need a biopsy for further investigation.

The next day, Couric learned she had breast cancer. She said she instantly recalled how her first husband, Manhasset-born Jay Monahan, had died of colon cancer in 1998, Monahan's mother of ovarian cancer shortly afterward, and Couric's sister Emily of pancreatic cancer in 2001.

"We decided I would have 'breast conservation' surgery, aka a lumpectomy" rather than a mastectomy, or breast removal. "Surgery would be followed by radiation and medication — specifically, something called an 'aromatase inhibitor' I'd need to take for five years." An olive-sized tumor was removed, and Couric's prognosis is good.

"Throughout the process," she wrote, "I kept thinking about two things: How lucky I was to have access to such incredible care, since so many people don't. And how lucky I was to be the beneficiary of such amazing technology. It made me feel grateful and guilty — and angry that there's a de facto caste system when it comes to health care in America."

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