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Jill Biden Had Skin Cancer Lesions Removed. How to Tell if You Have Any

The first lady is doing well. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

First lady Jill Biden underwent a procedure Wednesday to remove two lesions that were identified as basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer. The procedure successfully excised the lesions, and her physician says he doesn't anticipate the need for further ones. Biden was recovering well, according to the White House. Basal cell carcinoma is serious but doesn't metastasize like other skin cancers such as melanoma or squamous cell carcinoma. Still, it needs to be removed and the patient monitored afterward to see if it returns. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. But it's relatively easy to find and treat at early stages. Left untreated, some skin cancers can spread and result in serious illness or even death. Consult a doctor if you are concerned about any new spots on your skin. Here's what to look for.


The ABCDE Rule


The American Cancer Society advises following what it calls the ABCDE Rule to identify potential skin cancers. Look at spots or moles for asymmetry (a mole isn't symmetrical), border (irregular), color (not uniform or has black, brown or pink), diameter (larger than a quarter inch) or evolving (it changes over time).  The rules are suggestions about when to consult a doctor for further examination.


Where to Look

dermatologist examining mole on back of male patient in clinic

Cancer lesions often appear on skin that is exposed to the sun, such as the face, scalp, ears, chest, arms, hands and legs, among other places. Lesions can also develop on skin that is less exposed to the sun, such as the genital area. In a person with darker skin, lesions may occur more frequently on skin that doesn't get sun exposure, such as the palms or soles of the feet.


Types of Cancer

Young woman looking at birthmark on her back, skin. Checking benign moles.

Basal cell carcinoma such as Biden's most often appears on skin exposed to the sun and can look like a waxy bump or bleeding sore that scabs and recurs. Squamous cell carcinoma appears mostly on the face, ears, hands and other places exposed to the sun as a red nodule or scaly flat lesion. Melanoma can appear anywhere, including places not exposed to the sun. In men, it often appears on the face, trunk and lower legs; in women, on the lower legs. It looks like a brownish spot with dark patches, changes or bleeds and is painful and can itch or burn.


Other Signs


Skin cancer lesions can look different from the above descriptions. Health care professionals advise erring on the side of caution and consulting a doctor if you see anything on your skin that is out of the ordinary for you. That includes any moles or spots that weren't there before, that don't match others, that hurt or itch, that don't heal or that change (ooze, bleed, don't go away).


Less Common Skin Cancers

close-up of doctors hands checking mans moles

Less common forms of skin cancer include Kaposi sarcoma, Merkel cell carcinoma and sebaceous gland carcinoma. These affect different parts of the skin, including the blood vessels, the hair follicles or the oil glands.  Kaposi sarcoma is found most frequently among people with compromised immune systems, men in Africa or those with Ashkenazic heritage, among others.

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