Photo courtesy Ronald Reagan Library
It was a big moment in the history of skin cancer awareness.
By C. William Hanke, MD
The Reagan years gave a big boost to skin cancer awareness, although it came at a price: a scar on the face of both the first lady and the president. Nancy Reagan was diagnosed with a basal cell carcinoma (BCC) on her upper lip in 1982, which was excised with “no further treatment required,” according to The New York Times.
Soon, it was the president’s turn. Rear Admiral William M. Narva, MD, a dermatologist now retired, served every U.S. president from Lyndon B. Johnson to George H.W. Bush. In 1985, Rear Admiral Narva diagnosed a BCC on Ronald Reagan’s nose and guided the Mohs surgery treatment by U.S. Navy dermatologists.
The terrorist hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro required the president to go on national television the next morning to comment on the incident. When asked about the bandage on his nose, he spoke briefly about the basal cell carcinoma and explained that the margins were clear and the Mohs surgery was a success. He told the press that the bandage was a “billboard” that said, “Stay out of the sun.”
When that story broke, Perry Robins, MD, Mohs surgery pioneer and founder of The Skin Cancer Foundation, appeared on television to discuss the warning signs and the importance of early detection and effective treatment of skin cancer. It was one of the Foundation’s first big opportunities to bring national and international attention to the dangers of the disease — with a little help from the most powerful man in the world.
Top Photo: Rear Admiral Narva (far left) was instrumental in President Reagan’s signing of a 1985 proclamation declaring a National Skin Cancer Prevention and Detection Week. With Nancy Reagan, Senator Orrin Hatch, Dr. Gerald Krueger, Dr. Tom Jansen, Dr. Clayton Wheeler, American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) Executive Director Brad Claxton, Dr. Dick Dobson and AAD Washington Representative John Grupenhoff, PhD.
C. William Hanke, MD, is a Mohs surgeon at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center in Indianapolis. A senior vice president of The Skin Cancer Foundation and a member of its Amonette Circle, he has served as president of 13 professional societies.
This article was first published in the 2019 issue of The Skin Cancer Foundation Journal.