Amy Robach’s breast cancer diagnosis proves on-air medical tests are no laughing matter

November 12, 2013

Matt Lauer and Al Roker got prostate exams on NBC’s “Today” show last week — while their colleagues giggled on-air and the snarky tweets rolled in. But just days later, ABC News correspondent Amy Robach shared some very personal news that should shut down snide comments the next time a medical procedure is broadcast on morning television.


A month after undergoing the mammogram on “Good Morning America,” ABC’s Amy Robach said Monday that she has breast cancer and will have a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery this week. (Ida Mae Astute/ AP Photo/ ABC)

Robach told viewers Monday that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer, due to a mammogram performed last month live on “Good Morning America.”

The visibly emotional journalist, 40, said she’d been putting off her first breast exam — and was especially nervous about doing it on television, a request from a producer for a breast cancer awareness segment. But “GMA” co-anchor Robin Roberts, who publicly shared her own battle with breast cancer and then a rare blood disorder, convinced her it was important because it might save someone’s life.

“I know me, and I wasn’t in any rush to have that done anytime soon,” said the mother of two young girls; husband, actor Andrew Shue, was in the studio for support. “Little did I know that I would be a walking example of ‘having a mammogram saved my life.’ ”

Katie Couric at Gotham Hall in New York City last month. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Somaly Mam Foundation)
Katie Couric at Gotham Hall in New York City last month. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Somaly Mam Foundation)

High-profile names undergoing medical tests on TV is relatively new: Katie Couric famously started the trend in 2000 with an on-air colonoscopy; Kathy Griffin got a poolside pap smear for her Bravo reality show. But Robach’s diagnosis is an unsettling first: What appeared to be a routine morning show segment resulted in her doctors finding cancer.

That should be an especially powerful motivator for her fans, public health officials told us Monday. When a celebrity goes public with any health issue, more viewers get themselves checked out. Solid numbers are tough to nail down, but the behavior does have a name: The Couric Phenomenon. The year former “Today” show co-anchor highlighted the importance of colonoscopies after her husband died of colon cancer, screenings for the disease spiked.

co-host Amy Robach during a broadcast of "Good Morning America," in New York. A month after undergoing a mammogram on "Good Morning America," ABC's Amy Robach said Monday, Nov. 11, she has breast cancer and will have a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery this week. (Heidi Gutman/AP Photo/ABC)
Robach during a broadcast of “Good Morning America,” in New York. (Heidi Gutman/AP Photo/ABC)

And now Robach — who announced she will have a double mastectomy on Thursday — is expected to have a significant impact. “This particular example is so striking,” said Richard Wender, the American Cancer Society’s chief cancer control officer. “I am confident that it will encourage many women to at least ask their doctor about screening, and lead many women to the decision to be screened.”

More and more female journalists are talking about what once was a very private journey with breast cancer. Fox News’s Jennifer Griffin chronicled her double mastectomy in a blog and on air in 2010; WUSA’s JC Hayward shared details of her battle last year. Four years ago, WUSA sports reporter Kristen Berset was first diagnosed at age 27 — and she found an “overwhelming” response from viewers.

“I’m given such an incredible platform that reaches so many people, being in the public eye,” said Berset, who heard from many younger women struggling with the disease. “Not for one second did I think about not sharing my story.”

 

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Michael Livingston · November 12, 2013