No Joke! Cancer survivor says colonoscopy saves lives

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The subject of screening for colorectal cancer is often the subject of much snickering.

Laugh all you want, says J.D. Ellis - but then get screened. It's the message he's spread since persistent stomachaches led his first colonoscopy in 2010 - and a diagnosis of colon cancer at age 53.

"It was like wow - no warning, nothing leading up to it, just boom - all of a sudden," he said. "It just takes the wind out of your sails. You can't believe how devastating that is to be told you have cancer."

Surgery, chemo, and follow up surgery got Ellis back on his feet.

"It was two years of a pretty rough road," he recalls.

Colonoscopy is considered the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening, according to Dr. Patrick Schroeder of Cotton O'Neil Digestive Health in Topeka.

"Not only can you find precancerous lesions - polyps - but you can remove them at the same time," Dr. Schroeder said. "You markedly decrease people's risk of developing colon cancer in the future by finding polyps, removing them, and then continuing screening in the future."

Right now, health officials estimate only about 65 percent of people who should get screened for colorectal cancer actually do so. A recent study found at-home are an effective alternative for people with average risk. However, Dr. Schroeder cautions they often bring false positives, and you'd have to get a colonoscopy anyway.

He says people like Ellis show why screening works.

"What's gratifying is we're now nine years later, and he's doing wonderfully," Dr. Schroeder said.

In 2018, the American Cancer Society lowered the recommended age to start screening from 50 to 45. People should check if their insurance has started covering screening at the earlier age. A family history of colon cancer, smoking, obesity, and a diet high in red and processed meats all increase a person's risk for colon cancer.

Ellis is grateful for his second chance - and is up for any jokes his talk of colonoscopy may bring.

"Just laugh along with them, and go on ahead and go get screened - because the emotional grinder that your family, your spouse, your children.... it's devastating, and it really turns their world up side down," he said. "It's not worth it to go through that just to avoid having a colonoscopy."