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Mea culpa: The truth about Grover Cleveland’s cancer!

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By Warren R. Heymann, MD
April 17, 2016

The authors briefly note conditions from Lincoln’s presumed bout with smallpox to Ronald Reagan’s BCCs. You might think I’m bringing this up because she omitted George W Bush’s BCC (for that story please visit our office), but no. The real reason I’m including this is because I want to apologize to every resident that I taught over the years, misinforming them that Grover Cleveland did not have oral cancer, but rather necrotizing sialometaplasia. I was ready to email the author that Grover Cleveland should really not be listed here. I decided to check my references, but could not find any to substantiate the diagnosis of necrotizing sialometaplasia in the former president. I cannot recall for the life of me how learned that “fact” (did I read it or hear it?). Scanning the literature, I found the following (Cashman EC, Timon C. Otolaryngology and the American presidency: A medical legacy. ORL J Otorhinolaryngol Relat Spec 2011; 73: 105-9):

“The final histology was a subject of controversy for many decades. Because Cleveland enjoyed almost 15 years of disease-free survival (he died in 1908 of pulmonary-disease-related causes) many disputed the initial diagnosis of malignancy, and lesions such as ameloblastoma and benign salivary gland tumor were proposed. Debate continued until a study of the resected specimen in 1980 confirmed a diagnosis of verrucous carcinoma.”

So it was a verrucous carcinoma after all. Mea culpa. I failed to take my own advice and check my sources. Miss Vicital, my American History teacher at Martin Van Buren High School (Queens Village, NY) taught me that 45 years ago. I apologize to her as well. I will also ask forgiveness from Grover Cleveland himself the next time I stop at his newly renovated stop just past exit 14 on the NJ Turnpike (it’s actually pretty attractive)!

Mlacker S, et al. JAMA Dermatology 2016; 152 (4): 258. Dermatologic ailments in the White House.

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