January 24, 2007

White House stayed quiet on Laura Bush cancer surgery

By Rupert Cornwell

Published: 20 December 2006

The White House was at the centre of another late-disclosure controversy yesterday after complaints that it had failed to announce that the First Lady, Laura Bush, had a skin cancer tumour removed from her right shin more than five weeks ago.

The affair only came to light when Mrs Bush was noticed with a bandage below her right knee, and a spokesman confirmed on Monday evening that she had the excision. The cancer in question was a squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer, the First Lady's press secretary said yesterday. The tumour was the size of a small coin.

Tony Snow, the President's spokesman, played down the incident , telling reporters that Mrs Bush was not an elected official, but "perhaps if there's something more major, this would be discussed".

A squamous cell carcinoma affects the middle layer of the skin. It is more aggressive than basal cell cancer, the most common form of skin cancer, and is more likely to spread - meaning that patients need to have lymph nodes in the region near the tumour routinely examined.

Mr Snow asserted that although medical statements are issued about the President and the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, that traditionally had not been the case with family members. However, when President Ronald Reagan was in office, his wife, Nancy, revealed in 1987 that she had breast cancer and had undergone a mastectomy.

Monday's episode was the second case this year of a belated announcement. In February, the White House waited almost a day before disclosing that Mr Cheney had shot a fellow hunter during a quail-hunting trip.

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