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McCain Diagnosed With a Dangerous Type of Skin Cancer

Health: Doctors find two spots of melanoma in the Arizona senator. If it is a recurrence of a 1993 bout with the disease, his prognosis could be poor.


John McCain, a fierce candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has been diagnosed with melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer, and has canceled some upcoming campaign events, advisors to the Arizona senator said Wednesday.

The Vietnam veteran and former POW, who was successfully treated for the same disease in 1993, is scheduled to undergo tests today at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. He and his wife, Cindy, plan to meet with doctors on Friday to discuss his prognosis and treatment options.

"'It scares you a little bit, because you don't know the future," said Rick Davis, McCain's former campaign manager. "But he's had it before. It makes you more comfortable with the options, and it doesn't slow you down."

The melanoma was diagnosed last Thursday after two separate spots, one on his left temple and another on his left arm, were discovered during an earlier routine physical at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., according to a written statement from his Senate office. The statement described the two spots as "unrelated."

Doctors said it is not unusual for someone who has had a primary melanoma to develop one or two more that are unrelated. The condition most often occurs--and recurs--in light-complexioned people who have spent a lot of time in the sun.

McCain's prognosis varies dramatically depending on whether the melanomas are entirely new, so-called primary lesions, unrelated to the cancerous mole he had on a shoulder in 1993, or if they represent under-the-skin spread of his initial cancer, doctors said.

Until he undergoes more tests and meets with his own doctors, it is unknown whether the earlier and current conditions are connected. "All we know is that it's skin cancer," Davis said.

Cancer experts were uncomfortable talking about McCain's specific case, but Dr. Jeffrey Weber, associate professor of medicine at USC/Norris Cancer Center, said that when a melanoma metastasizes, the patient faces a significant likelihood of dying within the next five years--"more than 50%."

George W. Bush, the GOP nominee who battled McCain in the primary last spring, said in a written statement Wednesday that McCain "is in our prayers as he battles this illness."

"I know all Americans join Laura and me in wishing John McCain a complete and speedy recovery," said Bush, who is spending the Democratic convention week at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. "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."

On Wednesday at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles, vice presidential nominee Joseph I Lieberman, gave tribute to the ailing Republican during his acceptance speech. Vice President Al Gore, at convention-related events Wednesday night, said his thoughts are with the "courageous" McCain and his family at this difficult time.

"He is a brave fighter," Gore said. "I know that all Americans are going to be praying for this to turn out for the best."

McCain will still campaign on Sunday in Ohio for Sen. Mike DeWine, who backed the popular reformer in the presidential primary season last spring. But he has canceled all other campaign events for the rest of the week, said John Weaver, McCain's former campaign strategist.

Weaver described the McCain family as "fine" and said that the senator has "faced adversity before and he'll face this one."

"Obviously, it's serious," Weaver said. "It may end up being something they can take care of. It may be more than that, we don't know. . . . We are treating it seriously."

McCain's diagnosis comes at the height of the summer political season. At the GOP convention in Philadelphia, McCain gave Bush a ringing endorsement and issued a Republican call to arms during a prime-time speech on Aug. 2.

The next day, he headed to Bethesda for his physical, where the two spots were discovered and removed. He was back on the podium with Bush for the final day of the convention on Aug. 4, but this time with a small bandage on his left temple.

McCain learned last Thursday that the biopsies tested positive for melanoma. He was at the beginning of a campaign trip with Bush that took him from Salinas, Calif. to his Sedona, Ariz., ranch on Sunday. After the Bushes left Sedona, the McCain family headed to a houseboat on Lake Powell for a family vacation. He has had no opportunity for more tests and consultations until today.

During the bitter Republican primary, McCain revealed the 1993 cancer when he released hundreds of pages of medical records in response to questions about his ability to serve.

If the latest cancerous moles are new and unrelated, "hopefully he would have them removed and he would be fine," said Weber, of the USC/Norris Cancer Center.

If the melanomas turn out to represent spread of McCain's earlier disease, the situation is much more serious, doctors said. He would need to get tests and X-rays to determine how widespread the cancer is and may undergo much more aggressive treatment, possibly with immune stimulators and chemotherapy. "Those would be more likely to compromise his ability to work the kind of hours he probably works," said Dr. John Glaspy, a professor of medicine and oncologist at UCLA.


Times staff writers Julie Marquis and Edwin Chen contributed to this story.

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