The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ryan Reynolds got a colonoscopy after losing a bet. It found a polyp.

Ryan Reynolds attends the world premiere of “The Adam Project” at Alice Tully Hall in New York on Feb. 28. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
4 min

These days, snippets from celebrities’ most intimate moments are almost inescapable — from Kourtney Kardashian airing her firstborn’s birth, to Ashley Benson snapping away during a dentist appointment, to Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly licking each other’s tongues.

But Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney — actors, besties and co-owners of a Welsh soccer club — might’ve taken it a notch further by recently filming much of their colonoscopies and anesthesia-infused recoveries to shed light on colorectal cancer screenings.

“I’ve been on camera a lot,” Reynolds said in the video released Tuesday, with the caveat that it was the first time the camera had been focused on such a, well, intimate place.

It started with a gamble, the actors said. Last year, the two self-proclaimed competitive friends made a bet: If McElhenney, who created and stars in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” could learn to speak Welsh, Reynolds would publicly broadcast his colonoscopy.

Despite Reynolds’s confidence in his wager, it turns out McElhenney did learn the notoriously difficult language — or at least enough phrases to send Reynolds to the hospital with a film crew.

Shown on his way to the procedure room, the “Deadpool” star said he wouldn’t normally undergo a medical procedure on camera. But the decision to have his colonoscopy recorded came down to raising awareness “about something that will most definitely save lives,” Reynolds, 45, said in the clip, which was made in partnership with the Colorectal Cancer Alliance and Lead From Behind, a colon cancer awareness organization.

“The procedure itself doesn’t take long. We’re talking about 30 minutes, something like that,” a doctor told the actor as he was wheeled into the procedure room. “It’s stunningly effective.”

During a colonoscopy, a physician snakes a flexible tube with a tiny camera in its tip through the rectum and into the colon to get a close-up look at the organ’s interior. It sounds daunting, but it’s usually painless — and most patients are sedated through it all. (For those left wondering: This part wasn’t shown in Reynolds’s video.)

The procedure is used to check for abnormalities in the colon, such as swelling, irritation or tumors. But it’s also the main preventive measure to screen for colorectal cancer — the third-most-common cancer diagnosed in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society, which recommends that most people be screened every 10 years starting at age 45.

At last, an easier way to prepare for a colonoscopy

In Reynolds’s case, the doctor found an “extremely subtle polyp,” or clump of cells, on the right side of his colon. The doctor removed it, “interrupting the natural history … of a process that could have ended up developing into cancer and causing all sorts of problems.”

“That’s why people need to do this,” the physician added. “They really need to do this. This saves lives. Pure and simple.”

While the death rate for colorectal cancer has decreased over the past decade among older patients, it has risen among younger people — in part because of a lack of screenings in that age group. Over 52,000 people in the United States will die of colorectal cancer in 2022, the American Cancer Society predicted.

Even though Reynolds lost the bet, McElhenney, who is also 45, agreed to undergo a colonoscopy as well. His doctor removed three polyps — all while the actor was in a blitzed, post-sedation state and struggling to eat the graham crackers, which he called “biscuits,” that the nurse provided.

“Getting in on time is the key,” McElhenney’s physician said, adding that colon cancer is a “100 percent preventable disease” if people have the recommended colonoscopies.

In the past years, colorectal cancer has been given greater attention, especially after the death of 43-year-old “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman in 2020. Growing awareness about the importance of preventive screenings has made diagnosis rates drop in recent decades, according to the American Cancer Society.

National task force finalizes recommendation for earlier colorectal cancer screening

Before Reynolds and McElhenney, there was journalist Katie Couric and the massive spike in colonoscopies after she got the procedure done on-air in 2000.

Her “Today” show segment led to a rise in colon cancer screenings for about nine months after the story aired, according to research from the University of Michigan Medical School.

Other celebrities have endorsed a variety of potentially lifesaving medical treatments — from the polio vaccination campaign headed by Elvis Presley to pandemic-era pleas by the likes of Dolly Parton, Olivia Rodrigo and Jennifer Aniston. But their success has been mixed, The Washington Post previously reported.

Either way, when it comes to colonoscopies, Reynolds and McElhenney attested to how relatively easy the procedures are.

“Well, that didn’t seem so bad,” Reynolds shrugged as the clip ended.