View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 4, 1996
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                            BY MIKE MCCURRY
                           The Briefing Room

5:45 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: All right. I'm here for a special live event at the White House. No, this is not live. I'm joined here in the briefing room -- what? We're off camera, not for sound. I'm here with two special guests, Dr. Connie Mariano and Dr. David Corbett, who is the chief of dermatology at Bethesda Naval Hospital. So guess what the subject is?

Let me say, as I told you on May 24th, May 24th when the President had his annual physical, I told you that the dermatological exam at that time had identified an inclusion cyst on his neck, which he would probably elect to have excised at some point. The President elected that option today.

He underwent excision of a sebaceous cyst, which is layman's language for an epidermal inclusion cyst. That's the technical medical name, the doctors tell me. It was a 12-minute procedure that was performed at the doctor's office here at the White House by Dr. Corbett.

Why did he elect to do it today? I think some of you had noticed, certainly on the trip, that it had grown a little larger in size and certainly a little more bothersome to the President. And Dr. Connie noticed it at the convention, said, let's cut that thing out soon. So they did it. They did it today.

Dr. Corbett has treated -- of course he's examined the President before and has treated President Bush -- is he your only other number one patient? Okay. All your patients are number one, that's the right answer. The procedure today involved cleaning off an area with antiseptic, numbing up the skin with local anesthesia, making an incision in the inclusion cyst, and draining the contents. The entire cyst sac was removed -- I know you don't want to know this, but -- (laughter) -- in the era of full disclosure, you're going to get it whether you like it or not.

MR. MCCURRY: There are two fine sutures that were placed, and a Band-Aid was placed over the site. The sutures will be removed by Dr. Connie in about a week.

How long do you estimate before he would have to remove the Band-Aid? He should leave that on --

DR. CORBETT: He can take it off tonight or tomorrow.

MR. MCCURRY: Take it off tonight or tomorrow if he wants to, but you might notice --

Q So he can shower and do all that stuff?

MR. MCCURRY: You might notice that he has --

Q Two stitches?


MR. MCCURRY: Two stitches. They will do -- Dr. Corbett tells me he routinely does pathology reports on this. His clinical diagnosis is this is a benign epidermal inclusion cyst, but they will do a path report on the specimen that will be completed by Friday, and we'll give you the results of that path report.

Q It had been reported that this was a benign cyst before this.

MR. MCCURRY: That was based on --

Q You knew that because of observation, or how did you know that?

DR. CORBETT: Just clinical observation, having seen hundreds of these.

Q Dr. Corbett, you actually are the doctor who took it off?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Doctor, you're welcome -- this is your big chance. (Laughter.)

Q I'm sorry. Doctor, your first name again is --

Q You're not on camera. (Laughter.)

Q Nobody is rolling here. These lights just happen to be up.

DR. CORBETT: Okay. Well, Dave Corbett. David.

Q First physician, then?

DR. CORBETT: First dermatologist.

Q Would you be very surprised if it came back and it wasn't benign?

DR. CORBETT: I would be very surprised. If it came back as anything but an epidermal inclusion cyst, I would be amazed.

Q Is that inclusion, i-n-c-l-u-s-i-o-n?

DR. CORBETT: Yes, it is.

Q For those of us in television who have to spell it.

DR. CORBETT: Well, those of us who use WordPerfect hit control F2 and it spells it for us.

MR. MCCURRY: Any questions for the doctor?

Q The other day Leon Panetta, I believe, said the President was going to wait until after the election to have the cyst removed. Why all of a sudden did you decide to do it today?

DR. MARIANO: You know, we had planned that at the time of his physical that would be taken out electively. It was one of those things where you didn't need to rush, we'd keep an eye on it. But as time progressed, I started noticing, boy, that's getting larger. And the more photographs you take, it's bulging out and it really started to bother him whenever he'd shave.

So at the time of the convention, that night, I looked at him and said, you know, we ought to get that thing taken out. It's not a very pleasant thing to look at, it's bothering you. And part of the problem is trying to find the right timing to get Dr. Corbett in the schedule to do it. So this was the most -- the easiest time to schedule it was this week.

Q Why did Mr. Panetta say that it was going to come off --

MR. MCCURRY: He just -- he checked on it and, frankly, someone erroneously told him that they would probably wait until after the election. That was never, to my knowledge, the President's intent. I asked the President, I said, when did you -- he said, oh, I intended to have it done a long time ago, but I procrastinated because we had other things going on.

Q Instead of just cosmetic or shaving or inconvenience, was there -- if he would have let it grow -- continue to grow, was there possibly any danger?

DR. CORBETT: No, these oftentimes will get much larger. They will slowly increase in size oftentimes, but there is no increased risk of any malignant change to them even if they get quite large. And you can see folks with them that are quite large.

Q Is the growth of one of these things -- sudden growth, as he apparently experienced -- associated with stress or any other condition, in your own experience, or it just happens?

DR. CORBETT: Just happens.

Q He has occasional discoloration of his skin and he gets -- responsive to allergies and so forth. Is there any relationship between that condition and the appearance of this cyst?


Q Is it infected?


Q Why didn't you tell us earlier, Mike, about it? I mean, if it was happening during the day.

MR. MCCURRY: I just heard from Dr. Connie 10 minutes ago -- 20 minutes ago that he did it.

DR. MARIANO: It's hard to find the right time to get this scheduled, when he was back in town from travel. We really didn't want to do it on the road, and this was the most convenient time --

Q No, no. I wasn't asking why you did it. I just was wondering, if you were going to do it you had to know a few hours ahead of time.

MR. MCCURRY: We had tentatively planned today, but I was not going to say, well, tentatively he's going to do this and then have us wait around all day in case that he didn't do it. I mean, he found the time this afternoon to get it done.

Q Doctor Connie, would you spell your last name?

DR. MARIANO: Sure, M-a-r-i-a-n-o.

Q I'm sorry. And your first name is --

Q What is the likelihood that this cyst might return?

DR. MARIANO: Connie, C-o-n-n-i-e.

DR. CORBETT: Say again.

Q What is the likelihood that the cyst might return?

DR. CORBETT: There is always a small risk that the cyst can regrow, or you can grow new ones. They're very common. They are very common, very common.

MR. MCCURRY: Last question, yes.

Q Just to be sure, this was done at his residence?

DR. MARIANO: We have a doctor's office on the ground floor of the White House. It has been the White House physician's office since 1929, and it's got a private exam room there. You can do minor surgery there. And actually we use it frequently for tourists who pass out on the row. We bring them down there if they have chest pain or a heart attack. So that's the other way to get to meet one of us, is if you collapse in the tour line we'll bring you down there.

Q How about reporters who collapse?

DR. MARIANO: We bring you down there -- we've brought some of you over.

Q Dr. Corbett, could you describe the procedure again? You said you lance it or --

DR. CORBETT: Just make a small incision over the top of the cyst and then you kind of bluntly dissect around the cyst and it just kind of comes out.

Q Sort of encapsulated?

DR. CORBETT: It's encapsulated.

Q Would you call it surgery?

DR. CORBETT: Call it minor surgery.

Q And you used a local anesthesia?

DR. CORBETT: Yes, we used the same medicine the dentist uses to numb teeth.

Q Does the President have --

Q What is it?

DR. CORBETT: Lidocaine.

Q Lidocaine?

DR. CORBETT: Lidocaine.

Q Does the President have any more cysts like this one, or is this his only one?

DR. CORBETT: Didn't see any others.

Q Was this one of those things, Mike, where because of this there had to be some sort of -- you know, the Vice President standing by in case something went wrong?

DR. MARIANO: No, because he was alert, awake, talking about golf.

Q Does he have to restrict his activities in any way in the next couple days?


Q Dr. Mariano, Bob Dole and the Republicans keep making an issue about the actual medical records. Why won't the President release his medical records, as opposed to a summary?

MR. MCCURRY: Let me refer you to my transcript from Sunday in Little Rock, where I dealt with that extensively. We went through that at some length. Same answer I gave on Sunday.

Q Give us a precis.

MR. MCCURRY: I just said, look, we're doing full disclosure. The President, as a candidate in 1992, he made disclosure as full if not fuller than Senator Dole. And we've given you annual updates on the information released in 1992 at the time of his annual exam. I went through results of his annual exam in May at great detail, answered every question about it. The Dole campaign even submitted some questions related to test results, which I answered. But I also believe that in the -- we can protect -- certainly serve the public's right to know, provide necessary information on the President's health condition, and at the same time preserve the dignity of the office. I think there is a balance there, and I think we're striking the right balance in the way we deal with these questions.

Q Turkey is evidently massing troops along the border with Iraq. Are we concerned about that, because I think Turkey may or may not plan to make an incursion into northern Iraq?

MR. MCCURRY: We have had some contact with the government of Turkey related to their interest in protecting their own territorial integrity and security. Beyond that, I don't have any specific information on that report. We can check.

Q I'm sorry, I don't understand how Turkey is threatened.

MR. MCCURRY: They have from time to time, in the area of north Iraq, expressed concern about the presence of terrorist camps associated with the PKK. And I think since this is a moment of some instability in the Kurdish population there is a desire on their part to make sure that they protect their own country.

Q Mike, anything else on Iraq?

Q The location of the cyst again is where?

MR. MCCURRY: It's on his -- Connie, is it on his right neck or left neck?

DR. MARIANO: It's on his left.

MR. MCCURRY: Left side, right about here, right under the -- just below his jaw, yes.

Okay, no other update on Iraq. I'm not aware of anything going on. Most of us are shutting down early tonight since we're going on the road tomorrow.

See you all.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 5:57 P.M. EDT