McCain Diagnosed With Skin Cancer

Aug. 16, 2000 -- Arizona senator and former presidential candidate John McCain has been diagnosed with a recurrence of skin cancer and expects to undergo surgery.

The cancer, melanoma, is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and was detected on his left arm and left temple. McCain had a melanoma mole removed from his shoulder in 1993. Doctors speaking to ABCNEWS.com, who were unfamiliar with the specifics McCain’s most recent medical results, said his prognosis depends on whether the melanoma is new, how deep it is and how far it has spread.

“The odds are these are superficial lesions or very thin melanomas,” says Dr. David Polsky, associate director of the pigmented lesion clinic at New York University Medical Center, in Manhattan. “If there is no evidence that melanoma has invaded [more deeply], surgery is considered to be virtually curative.”

Doctors in such cases recommend removal of entire skin area surrounding the malignancy.

More Serious, If …

If, however, the melanoma is new and has spread deep, or is a recurrence of the original melanoma that has spread inside his body, the prognosis for McCain, 63, is not as good. Treatment for this scenario would include taking a biopsy of the lymph nodes to see if the cancer had spread to the nodes, immunotherapy, radiation and chemotherapy. “If the melanomas have metastasized [or spread] he’s going to be talking to oncologists pretty quickly and having surgery in the next week,” says Dr. Richard Glogau, clinical professor of dermatology at University of California in San Francisco.

In 2000, 47,700 people will be diagnosed with melanoma and 7,700 will die, according the American Cancer Society. Three Republican officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said McCain planned a news conference Friday to discuss his medical condition. They said he would see his doctors on Friday to discuss treatment options.

His busy campaign schedule on behalf of congressional candidates has been postponed for several days, perhaps into September, officials said.

The postponement gives no clue as to the type or severity of the melanoma, said Dr. Lynn Schuchter, an oncologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Similar to 1993

During his presidential campaign this year, when he gave eventual GOP nominee George W. Bush a stiff challenge, McCain released hundreds of pages of medical records that detailed the lingering effects of injuries suffered in a Vietnam prisoner of war camp. The records also showed that in December 1993, McCain had a cancerous mole removed from his shoulder that proved to be melanoma.

John Eckstein, McCain’s longtime personal physician in Arizona, said at the time that McCain was cured of the cancer.

The records said McCain regularly has suspicious skin lesions or moles removed — often basal cell carcinoma, the least aggressive and most common type of skin cancer.

Spot of Skin Removed

McCain left the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia on Aug. 2 to return to Washington, and had a spot of skin on his forehead removed at Bethesda Naval Hospital, spokesman Todd Harris said at the time.

There had been speculation that he had left the convention to avoid joining Bush on the platform at the closing session, even though he had endorsed the nominee in his own speech. Invited back by the Bush people, McCain returned to Philadelphia on Thursday, with a bandage covering the spot.

By the time he joined Bush in Monterey, Calif., for three days of campaigning on Thursday, he was wearing a Band-Aid, and by Friday, that was gone, although the area was red as it healed.

McCain, when asked last Friday about the mark, told reporters on the Bush plane that he had had some routine scraping of precancerous growths from his face.

Sources today told ABCNEWS that Bush and McCain discussed McCain’s cancer. Bush today said he and his wife, Laura, wished McCain, and his wife, Cindy, and family the best.

“I know all Americans join Laura and me in wishing John McCain a complete and speedy recovery,” Bush said today in a statement. “We just came back from a visit to John and Cindy’s home and our fondest thoughts are with him and his family. John is a good man and a fighter. He is in our prayers as he battles this illness.”

Sun Exposure May Be Culprit

Melanoma is the most lethal form of skin cancer. When discovered early, it is highly curable. But it is a very aggressive kind of cancer — tumors can double in size every month — and it can spread quickly to other parts of the body.

In addition, once melanoma returns in a patient already treated, treatment is more difficult. Those patients often turn to clinical trials of experimental therapies such as the new attempt at a meloma vaccine that has helped a handful of people who weren’t expected to live six months to instead see their tumors dramatically shrink.

Michael Ambrose, a POW center doctor made available by the McCain campaign in December 1999, said the type of cancer McCain suffered before is usually due to sun exposure from years ago. He said McCain and his fellow prisoners were kept in the Vietnamese sun for long periods, though it is impossible to link the cancer to his POW exposure.

McCain, who turns 64 on Aug. 29, has served Arizona in Congress since 1982.

ABCNEWS.com’s Melissa Schorr and Robin Eisner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.