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CBS' Harry Smith undergoes colonoscopy televised live

March 10, 2010 |  1:13 pm

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It’s been 10 years since Katie Couric had a colonoscopy on national TV. She has been advocating for these potentially life-saving cancer screening exams since her husband, Jay Monahan, died of colorectal cancer in 1998 at the age of 42. Couric’s televised procedure inspired thousands of Americans to get screened – researchers from the University of Michigan documented a 20% increase in the number of colonoscopies performed in the nine months following her broadcast.

On Wednesday morning, CBS' "The Early Show" host Harry Smith had his own colonoscopy televised live from the Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. As he put it, his goal was to “demythify” the procedure for the men and women who know they should get the test but are just too squeamish to make it a priority.

During the procedure, a doctor inserts a flexible scope into the rectum that snakes six feet to the beginning of the colon. The scope contains a camera to spot cancerous or precancerous polyps. It can also spray water to rinse the colon, carbon dioxide to blow back the folds of the colon, a special blue light makes polyps easier to see, and a small wire that can cauterize any polyps that look dangerous.

The screening exam is important because colorectal cancer is highly treatable if caught early. As Couric explained from Smith’s bedside – dressed in green scrubs, a white lab coat and wearing a gratuitous stethoscope around her neck – the goal is to remove the polyps before they grow into tumors that spread to the lymph nodes and metastasize throughout the body.

Some other tidbits:

  • The exam should last at least six minutes. Any faster and the doctor isn’t being sufficiently thorough.
  • Men and women at average risk should get the test once every 10 years starting at age 50. People with an increased risk should start earlier and get the test more often.
  • In 2009, 146,970 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 49,920 people died from it.

Smith said the most annoying part of the whole procedure was the bowel prep the day before (which involves many trips to the bathroom). As for the test itself, he said there was “nothing to it,” and the clean bill of health he received gave him “tremendous peace of mind.”

You can view the 19-minute video – which includes many rear-end jokes – by clicking on the link above.

-- Karen Kaplan

Video courtesy of CBS's "The Early Show"