White House defends decision not to reveal Laura Bush tumour removal

The White House today defended Laura Bush’s decision not to disclose she had a skin cancer tumour removed from her right shin last month.

Unlike her husband, Mrs Bush is not an elected official, presidential spokesman Tony Snow said. “Perhaps if there’s something more major, this would be discussed,” he said.

The cancer was a squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer, said Susan Whitson, her press secretary. She said the troublesome patch was about the size of a small coin.

Mrs Bush decided the cancer was a private matter and did not disclose it publicly.

Last night, the White House acknowledged the first lady had the tumour removed after Mrs Bush was noticed with a bandage below her right knee.

Whitson said the first lady was still wearing a bandage more than five weeks after the incision because the skin on that part of the leg is thin and “it takes a little while to heal”.

Asked if plastic surgery might be required, Whitson said: “No further procedures are needed at this point.”

A squamous cell carcinoma is a tumour that affects the middle layer of the skin.

It is more aggressive than basal cell cancer, the most common form of skin cancer. Squamous cell cancer is more likely than basal cell cancer to spread to other locations, so patients need to have lymph nodes in the region near the tumour routinely examined, according to the National Cancer Institute’s website.

“I think you guys are trying to whip this up into something much larger than it is,” Snow told reporters who questioned why the procedure had not been disclosed earlier.

He said that while President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney make medical disclosures public: “Other members of the family, not being elected, do not do so, and have not done so in prior administrations, and are not likely to do so.”

But there is a history of some public disclosure of health problems involving the first lady. Nancy Reagan in 1987 revealed that she had breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy.

Betty Ford checked herself into a treatment facility for drug and alcohol addiction after leaving the White House and later wrote about her dependence.

More than 1 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed annually, according to the American Cancer Society, which says that most but not all of these forms of skin cancer are highly curable.

Explaining why the procedure was not disclosed until now, Whitson said, “This medical procedure was a private matter for Mrs. Bush, but when asked by the media today, we answered the question.”

The first lady was noted wearing a bandage on her right leg before the election. At the time Whitson said Mrs Bush had a sore on her shin.

In late October, Mrs Bush had a biopsy because the sore was not healing, Whitson said, and it was determined to be a squamous cell carcinoma.

Yesterday’s disclosure was the second case this year of a belated White House announcement.

In February, the White House waited almost a day before disclosing that Cheney had shot a fellow hunter during a quail-hunting trip.

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