Surprise celebrity skin crisis:

Dame Elizabeth Taylor is treated for basal cell skin cancer


 Little did this sultry sun-splashed starlet know that her beach days might put her at risk...

 ...For basal cell skin cancer decades later.

Basal cell skin cancer. If people are aware of this exceedingly common sun induced growth, it is usually because they've been afflicted themselves. It just doesn't have the medical cred of melanoma. Lesions can grow, but don't spread to other areas of the body. Nobody dies of BCC, so few discuss it. Perhaps the news that screen icon Elizabeth Taylor had a basal cell skin cancer on her cheek treated this year will draw attention to the not-black sheep of the skin cancer family.

Skinema disclaimer: None of these recent images actually show Dame Taylor's skin cancer, so we'll describe a typical example for you. BCC's are usually light in color, pink, pearly or scaly. The majority are due to genetic damage accrued by youthful sun exposure. Little did Ms. Taylor realize that her heady days in the Southern California sun as a bombastic starlet would lead to this eventual souvenir. Yet much like a passionate film buff, the skin remembers.

Dame Taylor and her physicians decided to treat her cheek BCC in a uncommon fashion. Most BCC's, once diagnosed, are removed surgically. This prevents recurrence and local spread. There is a real risk of scarring, but this can be minimized in a controlled setting. It is therefore somewhat surprising that radiation treatments were chosen to treat Taylor's tumor. While ionizing radiation works to clear BCC, several visits are required. Also, there is the potential for the energy to damage surrounding skin, increasing the risk for other non-melanoma cancers to develop years later.

Treatment choice is a personal decision, and perhaps the essential lack of scarring with radiation was part of the appeal. You can take the basal cell skin cancer off of the movie star, but you can't dim that star's brilliance. Though usually easily concealed with makeup, these lesions should still not be ignored. Just like a superstar of Elizabeth Taylor's stature, BBC's should have our full attention.

Yet has Hollywood learned anything from Ms. Taylor's example? Or from the other celebrities that have had basal cell skin cancers treated, such as James Bond himself, Roger Moore, or former presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan? Take a look at this 2002 photo album of moviedom's summer vacation and draw your own conclusions:


Will these surfer gals in "Blue Crush"continue smiling through their sun induced wrinkles? Or will they feel blue? Better to leave surfing without sun block to impervious aliens like surfer-dude "Stitch."

The last thing sun spotted actress Julianne Moore needs is to "lay out" in the sun. At least "Far From Heaven" is set in the 1950's, Elizabeth Taylor's own era, when they didn't know any better.
Leonardo Di Caprio's 1960's girlfriends in "Catch Me If You Can" risk catching a sunburn while they tan.

Trend setter Madonna was also overexposed as a cast way in "Swept Away." In this case, we don't have to worry that her behavior might be a bad influence. Audiences kept away.

Singer Sheryl Crowe advised us to "Soak up the sun." At least she mentioned sun screen in the final lyric.

And 2003 doesn't appear to be any more sun safe: Check out sassy Cameron Diaz in the upcoming summer release, "Charlie Angels 2."

We doubt that her skin color is due to sunless tanning lotion.
So you see, we haven't seen this much sun exposed fair skin since the heady days of "Beach Blanket Bingo" and "How to Stuff A Wild Bikini." Don't let Elizabeth Taylor's BCC treatment go unremembered! Be sun safe today!

Celebrity skin crisis, Runner up:

George Bush Sr. is treated for precancerous growths

So we haven't scared you enough? Try this unretouched AP image of former President Herbert Walker Bush. He's midway through a round of golf, circa summer 2002. He's also midway through a standard treatment course with a topical chemotherapy cream that causes precancerous bumps to turn red and flake off. Known as Efudex, it is a step that is not taken lightly. After a few weeks of appearing scabby and feeling crabby, this rigorous treatment can clear away scores of sun damaged cells. But how 'bout an ounce of prevention? Hopefully we've scared you sunscreen.


© 1996-2008 Vail Reese M.D.

Dr. Reese's office