Skip to content

    Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

    Font Size

    President Has Cancerous Skin Growth Removed

    WebMD Health News

    Jan. 16, 2001 (Washington) -- The man known to many as "The Comeback Kid" and described as "lucky in his choice of enemies" has shown that both of these phrases apply to his health, too.

    The White House confirmed that a lesion, or sore, was discovered Friday during a regular physical examination at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. Test results have since confirmed that it was basal cell carcinoma, White House press secretary Jake Siewert said Tuesday.

    "The lesion was removed," Siewert added. So while it is true to say that the president had skin cancer, "he no longer has it."

    Basal cell carcinoma is a common form of skin cancer that affects nearly a million Americans each year. The usually slow-growing cancer starts as a small raised bump on the skin that develops to have a waxy or shiny appearance. It invades areas under the skin but rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

    President Clinton might now suffer from additional basal lesions, Darrell Rigel, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University, tells WebMD. But the fact that it was removed in essence means that the president no longer has skin cancer, he agrees.

    "Most [basal cell lesions] are caught early, and this sounds like it was caught early," Rigel says.

    If left untreated, basal skin cancer can have serious consequences, Rigel says. For example, he tells WebMD, "it could grow through an artery, and you could bleed to death."

    Still, "If you had to have skin cancer, this is the best one to have," says Debra Jaliman, MD, a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. The possible consequences primarily depend upon where the lesion is located, she explains.

    But Jaliman adds that Americans can learn a valuable lesson from Clinton's experience.

    People with a fair skin complexion, blue or green eyes, and blond or red hair are at greater risk of getting skin cancer, Jaliman points out. The fact that Clinton got basal skin cancer may be an indication that the president spent too much time in the sun 20-40 years ago without taking the proper precautions, she says.

    Today on WebMD

    Malignant melanoma
    How to spot it early.
    Woman checking out tan lines
    There’s a dark side to that strive for beauty.
    sauteed cherry tomatoes
    Fight cancer one plate at a time.
    Lung cancer xray
    See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
    12 Ways to Protect Your Skin from Melanoma
    precancerous lesions slideshow
    Do You Know Your Melanoma ABCs
    15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
    screening tests for men
    Vitamin D
    Is That Mole Skin Cancer
    Brilliant sun rays