McCain Recovering After Cancer Surgery

Aug. 21, 2000 -- Arizona Sen. John McCain is out of the hospital and resting at home after a five-hour surgery at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix to remove skin cancer from his temple and upper arm.

Preliminary findings showed that the cancer has not spread to McCain’s lymph nodes and that all melanoma was removed during Saturday’s surgery, said McCain’s internist, Dr. John Eckstein.

It will take several days to fully evaluate test results from the removed tissue, but McCain’s doctors were “very optimistic” about his future, he said.

“We are pleased to let you know the preliminary report on the lymph nodes … was clear without any evidence of melanoma cells, however it will take several days to fully evaluate the tissue,” Eckstein said.

The surgery followed tests that also found no signs that McCain’s melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, had spread to other areas of his body.

Eckstein said McCain was almost back to his normal self.

“He is now talking straight again after general anesthesia and when I asked him if he wanted me to pass anything on, he said, ‘Call [Senate Majority Leader ] Trent Lott. I know he’ll be on pins and needles,’” Eckstein said.

McCain’s wife Cindy McCain, also said the senator woke up in good spirits.

“When I came in this morning he was joking as he does,” she told reporters. “He has kept all of us in stitches.”

McCain had a similar lesion removed from his shoulder in 1993.

So Far Good News

Tests on the lymph nodes that doctors removed will help determine whether surgery will be the final treatment. If the lymph nodes are clear, then the outlook for a surgical cure is excellent.

Some questions remain, however.

Doctors said Saturday that the melanoma is 2.2 millimeters. Most of the patients with cancer that deep are still alive after five years after surgery. Thicker cancers are more likely to spread through the bloodstream.

If cancer has reached one or more of the lymph nodes, treatment is more complicated and less likely to cure the cancer, melanoma experts said. Options include using anti-cancer drugs and stimulating the immune system to try to fight the cancer.

The outlook would have been much worse if the cancer had spread to McCain’s organs, since that stage of melanoma is extremely difficult to treat, said Dr. John Glaspy, a researcher at UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center.

Doctors found the melanoma after McCain left the Republican National Convention to have biopsies performed at Bethesda Naval Hospital near Washington, D.C.

McCain, who turns 64 on Aug. 29, said he has seen his doctor for checkups every three or four months since he had the lesion removed from his shoulder seven years ago.

Melanoma is usually caused by exposure to the sun. Those like McCain who have fair skin have a higher risk. McCain spent hours in the Arizona sun campaigning for Congress in 1982 and subsequent years.

McCain has canceled about a dozen campaign events with GOP congressional candidates since learning of the diagnosis. Republican leaders had counted on McCain’s help to win independent voters and keep the GOP majorities in the House and Senate.

However, McCain said Friday he planned to board his “Straight Talk Express” bus for more campaigning by Labor Day.

McCain has served Arizona in Congress since 1982.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.