LifestyleYour Health Matters


Billings woman touts colonoscopies after surviving cancer

Billings woman touts colonoscopies after cancer battle
Posted at 5:31 PM, Apr 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-03 11:08:39-04

BILLINGS — In 2021, the recommended age for getting your first colonoscopy dropped from 50 to 45 years old. While it’s a topic many shy away from discussing, one Billings woman is sharing her story on her battle with colorectal cancer in hopes of spreading more awareness on the importance of getting screened.

Jennifer Eliason had no family history of colon cancer and being an active person, she disregarded the symptoms she faced.

Billings woman touts colonoscopies after cancer battle

“Nobody wants to talk about the symptoms of colon cancer. Nobody talks about having rectal bleeding, or diarrhea, or these different things,” Eliason said on Thursday. “I had had some bleeding that I just dismissed as hemorrhoids and honestly just ignored that for about a year.”

Eliason is a busy woman. As a mother to four boys and a March of Dimes employee, it was easy to push the bleeding to the back of her mind.

But in 2018, she couldn't ignore it any longer. She was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

“I was still stage one and so, very treatable,” Eliason said.

Others in her situation aren’t as fortunate. According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the number one cause of death in men under 50 and the number two cause of death in women under 50 after breast cancer.

Since 2020, there has been a 9% increase in colon cancer diagnoses for people under the age of 50, which is one of the reasons why the screening age was lowered to 45.

Dr. William Phillips, who specializes in family medicine at St. Vincent Regional Hospital in Billings, said a few signs and symptoms to look out for include black stool, which indicates the presence of blood, a change in bowel habits and unexplained weight loss.

“It's estimated that 90 percent (of deaths) can be prevented with earlier screening,” Phillips said on Tuesday. “One thing I’ve noticed is we are seeing a lot more polyps in younger people. So, I’d say probably a third to half of the patients that I send in for colonoscopies come back with pre-cancerous polyps.”

There are multiple ways to get screened, such as using an at-home test or going in for a colonoscopy.

“It’s a simple test to do and it can save your life,” Phillips said.

Billings woman touts colonoscopies after cancer battle

Eliason is celebrating five years cancer-free, something she may not be able to say if it wasn’t for her getting checked out.

“If this even encourages one person to get their symptoms checked out and get diagnosed early, then it was worth it,” Eliason said.