First Lady Undergoing Surgery to Remove Skin Lesion

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
January 11, 2023US News
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First Lady Undergoing Surgery to Remove Skin Lesion
First Lady Jill Biden delivers remarks during a reception to celebrate Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on May 17, 2022. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, a small skin lesion above First Lady Jill Biden’s right eye is being removed at a military hospital. The issue was discovered during a routine skin cancer screening last week, the White House said.

The surgery to remove the potentially cancerous lesion above her right eye was “proceeding well and as expected,” according to her office.

The first lady and President Joe Biden remained at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, as of midafternoon. They had arrived by helicopter at about 8 a.m ET.

The update from Jill Biden’s office came after she had been at the hospital for about six hours. A further update was expected after the surgery.

In a Jan. 4 memo released by Vanessa Valdivia, press secretary to the First Lady, the president’s physician Dr. Kevin O’Connor announced that doctors had recommended the procedure for the 71-year-old First Lady “in an abundance of caution.”

The surgery was scheduled the day after the couple returned from Mexico City, where the President met with the leaders of Mexico and Canada to discuss immigration, clean energy, and security.

The procedure, known as Mohs surgery, is a highly efficient treatment for skin cancer. According to a fact sheet from the Mayo Clinic, the surgery “involves cutting away thin layers of skin. Each thin layer is looked at closely for signs of cancer. The process keeps going until there are no signs of cancer.” The advantage of the technique is that it allows the surgeon to remove tumors entirely while minimally damaging the healthy tissue that surrounds it, which results in smaller scars. For this reason, Mohs surgery is ideal for removing skin cancers from the face, ears, or genitals. Its effectiveness also reduces the need for other treatments.

The procedure was developed in 1938 by a medical student named Frederick Mohs. The technique was further refined in the 1970s by dermatologist Dr. Perry Robins, founder of the Skin Cancer Foundation. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, the cure rate for Mohs surgery is as high as 99 percent for the most common types of skin cancer. For recurring cancers, the success rate is about 94 percent.

In April 2021, the First Lady successfully underwent an unspecified medical procedure that the White House described as “common.” No details were provided.

This incident isn’t the first time cancer has affected the Biden family. On November 19, 2021, Dr. O’Connor released a summary (pdf) of President Biden’s health, revealing that the President “has had several localized, non-melanoma skin cancers removed with Mohs surgery before he started his presidency.” According to O’Connor, “these lesions were completely excised, with clear margins.”

Skin cancer may be the most common form of cancer, but it is far from the most dangerous. In the United States, nonmelanoma skin cancer causes less than 0.1 percent of cancer deaths.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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