First Lady Never Thought to Tell Public of Skin Cancer

Laura Bush says she didn't disclose her skin cancer because she "never felt badly" and considers herself a private citizen.

But now that word is out, the first lady said she hopes it will encourage others — particularly those with fair complexions like herself — to watch for the disease.

"I'm glad people will pay attention, if they have spots they don't know what they are," Mrs. Bush said in an interview with CBS' "Early Show" that was aired Thursday.

"In West Texas where I grew up, the sun is pretty intense," she said. "I never really did a lot of sunbathing like some of my friends did, because I didn't tan. But, of course, I played outside for my whole childhood and spent the afternoons at the swimming pool and did those things we all did growing up in Texas. So I was out in the sun a lot."

Mrs. Bush said she first thought the small spot on her right shin was an insect bite. But when it didn't heal, she had it biopsied and it was discovered that she had a squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer.

It was removed just a few days after the Nov. 7 midterm elections. The White House did not disclose her condition or the procedure until this week, after reporters noticed she was still wearing a bandage on her leg and began asking questions. Asked about the bandage in October, the White House said it was merely a sore.

"It didn't occur to me to announce it," Mrs. Bush said.

That's because a squamous cell carcinoma is "not a serious cancer," she said.

"I was never sick. I never felt badly," Mrs. Bush said. "Also, of course, I am a private citizen — I have to say that as well. I don't release the results of my regular physicals, like the president does."

Squamous cell cancer is more likely than basal cell cancer, the most common form of skin cancer, to spread to other locations. But the American Cancer Society says that most, but not all, of these forms of skin cancer are highly curable, and that squamous cell carcinoma shouldn't be confused with melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

However, people with squamous cell cancer should have regular skin exams afterward.