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Laura Bush's Skin Cancer

Laura Bush is no Betty Ford or Nancy Reagan! The White House just admitted that the First Lady had a squamous cell carcinoma of her skin removed in early November of this year. Believing this was a private matter, the Bushes kept this information from the public.

Well, it was a private matter until the press figured it out. Now Laura Bush has joined the list of first ladies who have revealed that they had cancer. Ford eagerly told the public of her breast cancer diagnosis and radical mastectomy in 1974, in an era when breast cancer was still hush-hush. Reagan developed breast cancer in 1987 and made headlines for vocally choosing a mastectomy over a lumpectomy. Thanks to Laura Bush, newspapers, television programs and Internet blogs will now be filled with discussions of the medical significance of skin cancer.

The First Lady was under no obligation to tell anyone anything. She herself is not an elected official. But these days, if you are a public figure, disclosure of just about any illness is fair game.

Barron H. Lerner, MD, PhD
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
Author of "When Illness Goes Public: Celebrity Patients and How We Look at Medicine" (Johns Hopkins, 2006)

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