Presidents of the United States and Skin Cancer

By Robin Zimmerman, SolSurvivors Oregon

On the eve of this historic 2016 election, the people of the United States are seeking to choose who will be fit to serve as our nation’s 45th President.  With that responsibility, our President’s health has always been a concern of our nation and is closely monitored. Years of meticulous medical records have given us the ability to diagnose some diseases retrospectively.  Several of our presidents and their family members have been impacted by skin cancer and a few have had melanoma in particular.  Below are their stories of skin cancer. 

George Washington, 1732-1799

We all know he was our first president, serving from 1789-1797. Throughout his career he participated in the revolution and as a military leader and he was an industrious farmer and mule breeder. During his life he did suffer many different illnesses including tuberculosis, malaria, smallpox, and dysentery. In 1795 a “Carbuncle” grew on his face and some thought was a cancerous tumor and was quite likely melanoma. This could have also been caused from streptococcal or staphylococcal.  While this was not definitely melanoma, it is entirely possible our first President suffered from the disease.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1882-1945

The 32nd president took office in 1933 and served until 1945. He was struck with polio in 1921 causing him to lose the use of his legs. The images of him serving as president in a wheelchair are iconic and are still an inspiration to anyone dealing with a disability. Starting his presidency with his “New Deal” and then entering WWII after the attack on Pearl Harbor set him apart in history. In 1944 his health started deteriorating rapidly. He was fighting COPD, high blood pressure, and melanoma. The combination of all these took his life on April 12th, 1945.

James Earl (Jimmy) Carter, Born 1924

The 39th president took office in 1977 and served until 1981. His life after leaving office is filled with service to the citizens of the world. Having been a great supporter of Habitat for Humanity it is not uncommon for him to shown up at a house site working a full day just pounding nails. His Carter Center in Atlanta serves to advance human rights and alleviate human suffering.  On August 3rd of 2015 Carter underwent elective surgery to remove “a small mass” on his liver. The initial prognosis was good but on August 12th it was announced that the melanoma had metastasized. He began treatment with the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab and radiation.  Presently President Carter remains stable but his physicians will continue to monitor his health.  

Ronald Wilson Reagan, 1911-2004

The 40th president took office in 1981 and served until 1989. Reagan was raised in a poor family in Illinois. He worked as a sports caster and moved to Hollywood. He has a great career in movies. He served as the president of the Screen Actors Guild before moving into politics. In July of 1987 President Reagan had a procedure to remove skin form the tip of his nose which was diagnosed as basal cell epithelioma. Later the president was addressing a group of protesters while having the bandage on his nose. He pointed to the bandage and described it as a “billboard” which says “Stay out of the sun”.

Maureen Reagan (Daughter of President Ronald Reagan) 1942-2001

Maureen was the first child of Ronald Reagan and his first wife Jane Wyman. She pursued acting in her youth and appeared with Elvis Presley in the movie “Kissin Cousins”. She spent time and energy in politics with support for candidate and a run for office herself. With her father’s Alzheimer’s she became an advocate and served as spokesperson and joined the board of directors of the Alzheimer’s Association. In 1997 she was diagnosed with melanoma and lost her battle 4 years later in August of 2001. 

Laura Lane Welch Bush (wife of George W. Bush) Born 1946

She was a second grade teacher and has a Masters Degree in Library Science. She married George Bush in 1978 a year after they met. She became First Lady in 2001 when her husband took office. She implemented many initiatives involving health, education, and literacy. In November of 2006 she had a malignant tumor removed from her shin. It was squamous cell carcinoma. This type of skin cancer is more aggressive then basal cell and can spread to other parts of the body. Since she caught her cancer early, no further treatment was necessary.

John Sidney McCain (Former Presidential Candidate and current US Senator) Born 1936

Senator McCain serves in the state of Arizona. He was the Republican nominee for president in 2008. He comes from a line of Naval officers and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1958. He flew ground attack aircraft from aircraft carriers. Narrowly having escaped death in a ship fire, he was later shot down over Hanoi and was a P.O.W. in Vietnam until 1973. His torture and war wounds have left him with lifelong physical limitations. In 1993 Senator McCain had a superficial melanoma removed from his face. Then in 2000 the melanoma had returned and had penetrated the skin more deeply. This was removed along with some lymph nodes to diagnose if his melanoma could have spread. According to reports the nodes had come back clean.  He has had two more superficial melanomas removed since his surgery in 2000.