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First lady Jill Biden is undergoing a procedure to remain a skin lesion above her eye. Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • First lady Jill Biden is undergoing a procedure known as Mohs surgery to remove a skin lesion above her right eye.
  • Not all skin lesions are cancerous, but experts say Biden’s surgery is a good reminder of the importance of regular skin cancer screenings.
  • Experts say one way to reduce your risk of skin cancer is to limit your exposure to UV rays from sunlight.

Jill Biden is undergoing surgery this week to remove a lesion above her right eye.

Dr. Kevin O’Connor, the physician to the president, says the first lady will undergo an outpatient procedure known as Mohs surgery to remove the lesion and examine the tissue.

“During a routine skin cancer screening, a small lesion was found above the first lady’s right eye. In an abundance of caution, doctors have recommended that it be removed,” O’Connor said in a statement.

Also called Mohs microscopic surgery, Mohs surgery is regarded as the most effective treatment for many common forms of skin cancer such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

The outpatient procedure is performed in stages.

“Mohs micrographic surgery is a surgical procedure where a malignant lesion is removed with a 1 to 2-millimeter margin of normal skin and then pathologically evaluated while a patient is waiting. This testing takes about an hour and will tell us if the lesion has been removed with clear margins,” Dr. Vishal Anil Patel, the director of cutaneous oncology at the GW Cancer Center at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., told Healthline.

“If not, the surgeon is able to identify the exact area where there may be cancer remaining and only remove this tissue. After there is confirmation and the tissue has been removed adequately, a surgical reconstruction can be performed to close the wound in a plastic surgery fashion,” Patel explained.

For a skin cancer that has not been treated before, Mohs surgery has up to a 99% cure rate. In skin cancers that have returned following previous treatment, there is up to a 94% cure rate.

The procedure leaves behind healthy tissue and only creates a small scar, so is often used in areas of cosmetic or functional importance such as the eyes, ears, fingers, lips, scalp, toes, and genitals.

It is not known whether Jill Biden’s lesion is cancerous.

Dr. Sumaira Aasi, a professor of dermatology and the director of Mohs and Dermatologic Surgery at Stanford University in California, says not all lesions are cancerous.

“The word lesion is basically being used as a growth on the skin and most adults will have some sort of growth on their skin… so not every lesion on the skin obviously needs to be removed,” she told Healthline. “In general, the rule of thumb is that if a lesion is static, if it’s not changing, if it stays essentially the same, it is unlikely to be worrisome. Cancerous lesions will grow bigger, they’ll bleed, especially with minimal trauma.”

“Not every lesion is a skin cancer, but there are certain signs and symptoms that worrisome or concerning lesions have that might be skin cancer, such as bleeding, such as growth. Those are the symptoms or signs that dermatologists will look for or patients should look for,” Aasi explained.

Biden’s lesion was discovered during a routine skin cancer screening.

The experts who spoke with Healthline say her surgery is an important reminder for people to get regular screenings, especially if they have risk factors for skin cancer.

“Skin cancer is the most common malignancy to affect the human population,” Patel said. “It is generally a disease of older patients, but there are types of serious skin cancers that affect young patients, such as melanoma. Each patient has different risk factors that help determine how frequently they should be evaluated and one should discuss this with a dermatologist who can provide a personalized skin cancer screening recommendation.”

Potential risk factors for skin cancer include having a lighter skin tone, blue or green eyes, blond or red hair, skin that freckles or burns easily, having a large number of moles, having a personal or family history of skin cancer, and older age.

Limiting UV exposure can help lower the risk of developing skin cancer. Damage from UV rays can occur all year round, not just in summer. This can occur even on cool or cloudy days and UV rays can also reflect off surfaces such as snow, sand, water, and cement.

In the United States, UV rays are at their strongest between 10 am to 4 pm during daylight saving time and 9 am to 3 pm during standard time.

Aasi says getting into good habits with sun safety is important.

“Use good sun protection: using sunscreen, using a hat, wearing sunglasses or loose light-colored clothing,” he said. “There is absolutely a preventative aspect of skin cancer and that is something that we promote in our patients that have skin cancer or are prone to getting skin cancer.”