The Reason Behind Dr. Jill Biden's Unexpected Surgery

Among the things President Joe Biden achieved over the course of 2022 was the relaunch of the Cancer Moonshot initiative he first introduced in 2016. As the White House press release explained, the administration's long-term goal is to reduce the death rate from cancer by 50% by the year 2047. The cause is equally embraced by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. In 1993, four friends of hers were diagnosed with breast cancer, which spurred her to become active in cancer education. On December 15, the first lady posted a short video to Instagram showing highlights from a Cancer Moonshot event featuring the spouses of African leaders. There, she announced that the U.S. government and partners would be donating $300 million to initiatives working on new ways to treat, prevent, and diagnose the disease. "Cancer touches us all," she wrote. 

The Bidens are out to spread the message of the importance of regular cancer screenings. From mammograms to Pap smears and colonoscopies, testing for the most common forms of cancer can catch the disease in its earliest and most treatable stages. The most common form of cancer — skin cancer — is one of the easiest to prevent and treat, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Regular self-checks can help spot skin cancer, along with dermatology visits. It's a message we may soon be hearing from Dr. Biden, following news that she has joined the millions of Americans diagnosed with cancer each year. 

The first lady will have a common outpatient procedure for skin cancer

On the evening of January 4, 2023, Dr. Jill Biden's press secretary, Vanessa Valdivia, shared a letter from the president's physician. "During a routine skin cancer screening, a small lesion was found above the First Lady's right eye," wrote Dr. Kevin C. O'Connor. "In an abundance of caution, doctors have recommended that it be removed."

Dr. O'Connor went on to explain that Dr. Biden will undergo the surgery on January 11 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. The outpatient procedure, known as Mohs surgery, is a highly effective method of removing cancerous tissue on visible areas such as the face (via Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center). Under local anesthesia, the surgeon removes layers of tissue one at a time and checks them for cancer cells until all the cancerous layers are out. Fair-skinned patients such as Dr. Biden are prone to common forms of skin cancer such as basal cell and squamous cell cancer, according to the American Academy of DermatologyPeople with freckles are also more prone to sun damage that can trigger the formation of cancerous cells.

Twitter users offered their support and good wishes for the first lady. Some shared their own experiences and reassured Dr. Biden that a Mohs procedure isn't a major ordeal. "All sun worshipers have the same problems," commented a follower. "Very common, very treatable, and little to no scar. Everyone should always get checked multiple times a year."