Last week, Arizona Senator John McCain had a blood clot removed from above his left eye. This mass was found to be an aggressive form of brain cancer called a glioblastoma. This is a very dangerous form of cancer which spreads quickly through the blood vessels in the brain. McCain will recover from this procedure over the next week, with ongoing treatment options including chemotherapy and radiation.
Brain and spinal cord cancers run in families, but most people diagnosed have no family history of the disease. About 24,000 malignant tumors are diagnosed every year, with a third of brain tumors being glioblastomas. Glioblastomas don’t spread to other organs. Once the tumor is removed, microscopic pieces could remain and spread to other parts of the brain. There are higher incidences of these tumors among melanoma survivors, like McCain, than those who never had skin cancer.
Symptoms of a brain tumor include double vision, forgetfulness, and headaches. Some people have no symptoms until they have a seizure. This tumor may explain McCain’s incoherent speaking last month. Treatment includes a combination of chemotherapy and daily radiation.
Glioblastoma has a poor outlook, but neurosurgeons are hopeful due to advances in research. The average survival rate is 16 to 18 months, but new therapies can give patients up to 10 more years. New clinical trials use low dose electricity and viruses to inhibit cell growth. Survival is linked to how much tumor is removed.
It is not known if McCain is a candidate for any of these new therapies or clinical trials. His age could make recovery more difficult, as only 10 percent of patients live beyond five years of diagnosis. McCain could return to the Senate while undergoing treatment. His Mayo Clinic team in Phoenix will determine if and when he can return to work.
Charles MD, Shamard and Weaver, Jane. “What Is Glioblastoma? McCain’s Brain Tumor Is an Aggressive Type of Cancer.” Cancer. NBC News, 20 Jul 2017. Web. 20 Jul 2017.