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Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney get screened for colon cancer : NPR

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Ryan Reynolds, pictured in 2016, filmed his colonoscopy. A doctor found and safely removed a polyp.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images


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Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

What started as a friendly bet between Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney turned into a life-saving and instructive moment.

“I made a bet. I lost. But it still paid off,” Reynolds wrote on YouTube, as part of a colon cancer public awareness campaign.

It all started last year when the couple, who are co-owners of a Welsh football club, bet on whether McElhenney could learn to speak Welsh. If McElhenney, who plays in Philadelphia is always sunnywon the bet, Reynolds agreed to publicly film his colonoscopy.

But while keeping his end of the bargain, Reynolds’ doctor detected a benign polyp – tissue growths that may be a precursor to cancer.

Reynolds, who has three children and is waiting for a fourthhad no symptoms of a growing polyp and it was “extremely subtle” before it was removed, her doctor said in a video posted Tuesday on the experience.

“It was potentially life-saving for you. I’m not kidding,” Reynolds’ doctor told the actor.

McElhenney also decided to have a colonoscopy and her doctor removed three polyps, which is shown later in the video.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, but it is highly preventable with early detections. Here’s what you need to know:

When to schedule a colonoscopy

In most cases, adults between the ages of 45 and 75 should schedule routine colonoscopies every 10 years, the US Task Force on Preventive Services found.

Some people under 45 are advised to get tested if they have an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease, a personal or family history of colon cancer, or a genetic syndrome that causes polyps to grow, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with these conditions should also get tested more often, the American Cancer Society said.

It’s important to get tested as early as possible, experts said. In fact, colon cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in people under 50, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Recent studies show that screening colonoscopies can reduce the relative risk of contracting colon cancer by 52% and the risk of dying from it by 62%.

What to expect with the screening itself

Colonoscopies imply a long, thin, flexible tube to check for polyps or cancer in the rectum and entire colon. If polyps are detected – as in the case of Reynolds and McElhenney – doctors will also use the time to remove them.

Polyps tend to be common – more than 40% of adults over 50 have precancerous polyps in the colon, according to the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.

The procedure usually takes 30 minutes to an hour.

Colonoscopies are one of many ways to get screened for colon cancer, including noninvasive stool tests and sigmoidoscopies, which involve a short, thin tube inserted into the rectum to check the lower third of the colon.

The CDC recommends that patients talk to their doctor about which test suits you.

Colonoscopies are supposed to be free, but patients report being charged – what to do if this happens to you

Preventive health care like mammograms and colonoscopies are supposed to be free for patients under the Affordable Care Act, but there are a few exceptions.

Some patients may be charged for the procedure if it is for “diagnostic” purposes rather than “screening” purposes. This distinction is often decided by doctors and hospitals. For example, people with a family history of colon cancer or a personal history of polyps are likely to have a higher risk of cancer and therefore have their colonoscopy classified as “diagnostic”.

It is important to note that removal of polyps is usually not sufficient to be considered “diagnostic” under the law. Because there is little federal oversight around this provision, the onus is on the patient to ensure they are billed correctly.

Experts recommend checking out coverage minefields that would allow providers to charge for polyp removal.

“Contact the insurer before the colonoscopy and say, ‘Hey, I just want to understand what the coverage limits are and what my payouts might be,’ Anna Howard, policy manager at the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, said. Kaiser Health News.

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