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White House clarifies Biden's cancer comments; president not announcing new diagnosis

During a speech Wednesday, President Biden said he "has" cancer. The White House clarified he was referring to minor skin cancer removals before his presidency.
Credit: AP
President Joe Biden speaks about climate change and clean energy at Brayton Power Station, Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Somerset, Mass. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — During a speech on the effects of climate change Wednesday, President Joe Biden seemingly indicated that he has cancer, but the White House quickly clarified the president was referring to a previous diagnosis before his presidency.

The comment came during a speech in Somerset, Mass., when the president was discussing the health effects caused by emissions from oil refineries near his hometown in Delaware.

“That’s why I — and so damn many other people I grew up with — have cancer and why for the longest time Delaware had the highest cancer rate in the nation,” Biden said.

RNC Research, a Twitter account run by the Republican National Committee, quickly posted a video clip, tweeting, "Did Joe Biden just announce he has cancer?" The claim quickly gained traction among conservative figures on Twitter.

Andrew Bates, a White House deputy press secretary, responded by pointing to a tweet from Glenn Kessler, the editor and chief writer for the Washington Post's Fact Checker. Kessler debunked the claim, pointing out Biden had minor skin cancers removed prior to his presidency, which was noted in a health report released last year. 

"This is what the President was referring to," Bates tweeted.

It's not clear why Biden used the present tense, or if medical experts have linked refinery emissions to skin conditions like cancer.

President Biden's physician, Dr. Kevin O'Connor, released a medical report in November 2021 that said "it is well-established that President Biden did spend a good deal of time in the sun in his youth" and noted Biden had "several localized, non-melanoma skin cancers removed with Mohs surgery before he started his presidency." The doctor added Biden had no suspected skin cancers at the time of the report. 

Mohs surgery is considered a fairly routine procedure and one of the most effective ways to treat the two most common types of skin cancer. It requires only local anesthesia and is typically performed in an outpatient setting, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Cancer has touched Biden's life in a number of ways. His son, Beau Biden, died of brain cancer in 2015. As Vice President in 2016, Biden launched the "Cancer Moonshot" program; in February 2022, he "reignited" the program and set a lofty goal to reduce the death rate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years.

RELATED: Biden aims to reduce cancer deaths by 50% over next 25 years

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