HHS' Sebelius Wears the Warning

By Ralph Hipp

It took lots of guts for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to go up to Capitol Hill with her eye swollen shut and a strange bandage covering her forehead.  All this to be shown on all the cable and evening newscasts, too!  But her surgery to remove the beginnings of her skin cancer (a basal cell carcinoma) may have Americans all over the country asking, "man, if that's what I have on my face.. I'd better have it checked out."  Here's why:

Cancer of the skin accounts for about half of all cancers.  More than 1 million basal and another major kind, squamous cell skin cancers, are found each year each year. Most of these (about 800,000 to 900,000) are basal cell cancers. Squamous cell cancer is less common – there are about 200,000 to 300,000 cases per year.

People do not often die of these cancers. About 1,000 to 2,000 people die of non-melanoma skin cancer each year in the U.S.  Most people who die are older and have not received treatment for their cancers soon enough. Other people likely to die of skin cancer are those with immune systems that are not working very well.  Basal cell carcinoma was once found mostly in middle-aged or older people. But now it is also being seen in younger people. This may be because people are spending more time in the sun without protecting their skin.

Basal cell carcinoma (what Sebelius had removed this week) tends to grow slowly. It is very rare for a basal cell cancer to spread to distant parts of the body.  But if it is not treated, it can grow into nearby areas and spread into the bone or other tissues beneath the skin, most often people who have had organ transplants.  So good for you, Secretary Sebelius, you took one for the team and showed America how serious this condition could be.

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