Did FDR hide a fatal illness from the public?

It’s no secret that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was not very forthcoming about the health issues he faced. The 32nd President refused to be photographed in a wheelchair or with the crutches he needed as a result of polio. It is also known that in the last year of his life that he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and had extraordinarily high blood pressure. He died of a stroke on April 12, 1945.

However, a new book, FDR’s Deadly Secret, by authors Eric Fettman and Dr. Steven Lomazow, a neurologist, claim that FDR had a fatal skin cancer which ultimately lead to his death, and that this was diagnosed while FDR was still in his second term. The authors, along with a leading skin pathologist- Dr. Bernard Ackerman, studied hundreds of pictures of a lesion over the president’s left eyebrow, which they believe was a malignant melanoma. They also claim that the tumor had spread to his brain and abdomen, and that the tumor probably lead to the stroke which killed him. According to Fettman: “evidence from Roosevelt’s shockingly inept delivery of his final public speech strongly suggests that he suffered from hemianopia — the inability to see the text in the left side of his field of vision.”

Fettman and Lomazow say in the book that FDR ran for a third and fourth term in the White House while knowing “full well that he faced a likely death sentence.”

Malignant melanoma is a cancer that forms in skin cells, called melanocytes, which produce skin pigment. These cells grow in an uncontrolled fashion and form tumors. Although melanoma is one of the rarer skin cancers, it is responsible for most of the skin cancer deaths. Risk factors for melanoma include family history of melanoma, fair skin, frequent sunburns in childhood, atypical (precancerous) moles, and having more than 50 benign moles.

Often, the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of an existing mole. Most melanomas have a black or blue-black area. Melanoma also may appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal, or “ugly looking.” Thinking of “ABCD” can help you remember what to watch for:

A: Asymmetry: One side does not look the same as the other side:


B: Border: The edges are often ragged, notched, blurred, or irregular in outline; the pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.


C: Color: The color is uneven. Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, grey, red, pink, or blue also may be seen.


D: Diameter: There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas are usually larger than the eraser of a pencil (1/4 inch or 5 millimeters).


Source: National Cancer Institute

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

  • The stage of melanoma (whether cancer is found in the outer layer of skin only, or has spread to the lymph nodes, or to other places in the body.
  • Whether there was bleeding or ulceration at the primary site.
  • The location and size of the tumor.
  • The patient’s general health.

For more information:



Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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