The White House has confirmed that a lesion removed during President Joe Biden's physical last month was cancerous. According to Biden's physician, all cancerous tissue has been removed, and no additional treatment will be needed.
Last month, Biden underwent an annual physical at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. According to White House physician Kevin O'Connor, President Biden is "a healthy, vigorous, 80-year-old male who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency, to include those as chief executive, head of state and commander in chief."
During the physical, a lesion was identified and removed from Biden's chest through electrodessication and curettage, a common way to treat skin cancer by scraping and removing the skin with a sharp instrument and electrical currents.
On Friday, biopsy results of the lesion identified it as basal cell carcinoma, one of the most common and treatable types of skin cancer. In January, first lady Jill Biden also had multiple basal cell lesions removed from her eye and chest following a physical.
According to O'Connor, all cancerous tissue has been removed, and the president does not require any additional treatment. "The site of the biopsy has healed nicely and the President will continue dermatologic surveillance as part of his ongoing comprehensive health care," O'Connor said.
President Biden also had several non-melanoma skin cancers and pre-cancerous lesions removed or treated before he became president.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, and around 3.6 million cases are diagnosed in the United States every year. Unlike other skin cancers, such as melanoma, basal cell carcinoma is rarely life-threatening.
"It's probably the most common human cancer," said Ann Silk, a medical oncologist who treats skin cancers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "If you have to get cancer, it's kind of a good one to have because it's easy to remove. This is an easily curable cancer that should not impact one's quality of life, prognosis, or survival."
Basal cell carcinoma is often caused by mutations from ultraviolet damage from the sun or other UV light sources, such as tanning beds. Those who are at highest risk include people with lighter skin tones, men, and older adults.
Some data suggests that Caucasian men have a 33% to 39% chance of developing basal cell carcinoma at least once in their lives, while Caucasian women have a roughly 25% chance.
To identify basal cell carcinoma, you can sometimes look out for certain symptoms, such as itching, tenderness, or bleeding, but many of them look relatively unremarkable.
"A little pink nodule, a pink spot. Sometimes the appearance is described as pearly looking on the top surface of the tumor that doesn’t go away," Silk said. "If a spot develops and stays for months and months, it's probably not a pimple or ingrown hair. It's probably a basal cell."
Although basal cell carcinomas grow slowly and are generally unlikely to metastasize or become aggressive, Silk recommends that "anyone who has had a skin cancer or a relative who has had a skin cancer should see a dermatologist at least once a year for a full body skin check" since older cancers are harder to treat.
According to STAT, improving cancer treatments and survival has been one of Biden's core political priorities for years. Last year, he relaunched a "Cancer Moonshot" program with a goal of halving cancer mortality rates over the next 25 years. The program also includes initiatives that offer free skin cancer screenings to identify and prevent cancer before it spreads.
Aside from screenings, there are other relatively simple ways to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. "It's impossible to protect your skin from all UV damage, but avoiding being outside when the sun is strongest — 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. approximately, wearing protective clothing and hats, and wearing sunscreen helps," Silk said. (Rogers, New York Times, 3/3; Ward, Politico, 3/3; Chen/Cohrs, STAT, 3/3)
Create your free account to access 2 resources each month, including the latest research and webinars.
You have 2 free members-only resources remaining this month remaining this month.
Never miss out on the latest innovative health care content tailored to you.