July 20, 2017

McCain has brain cancer, Mayo Clinic doctors say

Daily Briefing

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been diagnosed with glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, according to a statement from Mayo Clinic released by McCain's office Wednesday.

McCain's office said he would determine when to return to the Senate based on consultation with his medical advisers.

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McCain's diagnosis

McCain last Friday underwent surgery at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix to remove a blood clot above his left eye. According to the hospital, subsequent testing showed that a glioblastoma was associated with the clot.

A glioblastoma is an aggressive tumor that can be difficult if not impossible to treat, Mayo Clinic said. Medical experts said treatment may slow progression and reduce symptoms—although the cancer almost always returns. Stephan Mayer, chair of neurology at Henry Ford Health System, explained that "80 to 90 percent of the time when we hear malignant brain tumor, this is the type." He added, "It is just a nasty, incurable disease."

According to Eugene Flamm, chair of neurosurgery at Montefiore Hospital, the median survival period for glioblastoma is 16 months. Former Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Beau Biden, the son of former Vice President Joseph Biden, were diagnosed with the same cancer, the Washington Post reports. Kennedy passed away in 2009, a year after he disclosed his diagnosis, and Biden died in 2015, two years after he was diagnosed. 

Mayer, speaking in general and not about McCain's diagnosis specifically, said that treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. He said that in many cases, patients with such cancer are able to enter a clinical trial.

McCain's doctors said that the "tissue of concern" was removed during Friday's blood clot procedure. In addition, the statement released Wednesday noted that according to the senator's physicians, McCain is "recovering from his surgery 'amazingly well,' ... and his underlying health is excellent."

A tweet sent Thursday from McCain's Twitter account stated:

Support for McCain

As of late Wednesday, President Trump as well as three former presidents—Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush—had issued statements wishing McCain a fast recovery, along with many of McCain's colleagues in Congress, the New York Times reports.

Trump in his statement said that McCain "has always been a fighter."

Separately, Obama—who faced McCain in the 2008 presidential general election— in his statement said, "Cancer doesn't know what it's up against."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said McCain "has never shied from a fight, and I know that he will face this challenge with the same extraordinary courage that has characterized his life."

McCain's daughter, Meghan McCain, in a statement said that the news has "affected every one of us in the McCain family." However, she added that "it won't surprise you to learn that in all this, the one of us who is most confident and calm is my father. He is the toughest person I know."

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Implications for health care legislation

The public news of McCain's diagnosis comes after McConnell on Saturday announced that he would delay a vote on the Senate's health reform bill while McCain recovered. McConnell on Monday said that bill lacked the votes to advance, but party members met late Wednesday to discuss a compromise. 

In addition to wishing McCain well and expressing concern, lawmakers on Wednesday also acknowledged the challenge that McCain's absence presents for efforts to pass health reform legislation going forward, Roll Call reports.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said, "Obviously, I think more people are worried about his health than thinking about the math, but you know, you understand the math." He added, "Obviously, it makes things more difficult."

Republicans currently hold 52 seats in the Senate, and McCain's absence brings the current tally of possible GOP Senate votes down to 51, since senators cannot vote remotely (Sullivan, Washington Post, 7/19; Hughes, Wall Street Journal, 7/19; Hulse, New York Times, 7/19; Stevens, New York Times, 7/19; McIntire/Williams, Roll Call, 7/20; McGinley et al., "To Your Health," Washington Post, 7/19).



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