Skin Cancer and US Politicians

Gabe Mirkin, M.D.

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Former President Clinton had a basal cell skin cancer removed from his back while he was in office, attracting national press attention to this common form of cancer. There are three main types of skin cancers. President Clinton did not have a melanoma, a skin cancer that starts in moles and can spread rapidly through your body and kill you. Moles that have irregular borders and multiple colors should be removed to be checked for melanoma. Moles that have smooth circular borders and are of one color are almost never melanoma cancers.

President Clinton did not have the second type of skin cancer called squamous cell cancer. The can occasionally spread through the body and kill you. He did have a basal cell skin cancer that rarely spreads through the body and can be cured just by taking out 100% of the lesion. They are called cancers because they keep on growing through everything around them until they are completely removed. Basal cell skin cancers fall apart and feel like marshmallows when they are scraped. All a doctor has to do to cure it is to inject an anaesthetic into the lesion, scrape the basal cell cancer until he feels the hard resistance of normal skin. Then burn an area of normal skin around the lesion to guarantee the removal of the entire cancer.

You can suspect that you have a basal cell skin cancer when you develop a red scaly area on the surface of a light-exposed area of skin. That is probably an actinic keratosis that can often be removed just by applying a special cream. However, if you leave the red area in place, it can go deeper and became a skin cancer. You can suspect that the actinic keratosis has gone deeper when the surface feels rough like sandpaper. If you let it grow further, it can become an elevated area with a fine pearly border.

It seems that one of the requirements to become either president or vice president of the United States is to have a skin cancer. Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush all had skin cancers removed when they were president. Vice president Al Gore also exposed too much of his body to sunlight and had a skin cancer removed in 1996. Vice president Dick Cheney also had a skin cancer removed. Should we conclude that exposing your skin to too much sunlight is associated with becoming president or vice president of the United States?

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Dr. Gabe Mirkin has been a radio talk show host for 25 years and practicing physician for more than 40 years; he is board certified in four specialties, including sports medicine. Read or listen to hundreds of his fitness and health reports at

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