41’s Gracious Contribution to Skin Cancer Awareness - Toronto Dermatology Centre
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41’s Gracious Contribution to Skin Cancer Awareness

41’s Gracious Contribution to Skin Cancer Awareness

mole lesion spot on person's shoulderGeorge Herbert Walker Bush, our 41st President, passed away last night. This commentary is a personal reflection on a “pen pal” experience in 1986 that still makes me smile.

“When you see something, say something” has an alternative meaning to a dermatologist.

Skin lesions are observed on photographs, television, and in the movies. Whether it is Bill Clinton’s rosacea, Richard Gere’s Becker’s nevus, or Mikhail Gorbachev’s port wine stain, I have to consciously ignore these conditions to concentrate on why I am watching them in the first place.

On February 13th, 1986, the cover of the Sunday New York Times Magazine section displayed a full-face photograph of then Vice President George H.W. Bush. His sun damage was striking – undoubtedly a consequence of summers at Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, his service in the Pacific Theater near Chichi-Jima, and in the Texas oilfield sun. I was most concerned that a freckle (solar lentigo) on his right temple could have been an early melanoma (lentigo maligna). I was less worried about a red lesion on his nose, thinking that was more likely due to pressure from his glasses rather than a pre-cancerous lesion (actinic keratosis).

It is one thing to express concern to a stranger when noticing a suspicious lesion in person – but from a photograph? Initially, I was not going to mention anything because I assumed the Vice President had superlative medical care. But then I felt guilty – what if I subsequently learned that he had melanoma and I was reticent? I decided to write to Mr. Bush, recommending that he have a complete skin examination, with no expectation that my letter would even be read – at least my guilt would be alleviated.

Mr. Bush was found to have a basal cell carcinoma on his left cheek, which was excised on May 15th, as detailed in Lawrence K. Altman’s column, “The Doctor’s World” (Basal Cell Carcinoma: Most Benign Malignancy, New York Times, May 20, 1986).

Check out the rest of the story here.

Credit: drwarrenrheymann.com

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