John McCain’s Melanoma in Perspective

Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, and I have a similar medical history. In a recent NY Times article, Lawrence K. Altman, M.D reported, “Mr. McCain has had four (malignant) melanomas.”

Until 2007 I was tied with the Senator. I had four of these deadly skin cancers diagnosed in 1993-94. A fifth was located on me and biopsied in 2007.

Around 150,000 a year world-wide are diagnosed with melanoma. A little under 50,000 die of the disease every year. It is the most common cancer for women under the age of 30, second most common for women age 34 and under.

Multiple melanoma survivors aren’t that common. I’ve been an active participant in MM support groups for 12 years. I can count the people I know who have had more than one of these skin cancers diagnosed. Senator McCain is the only one I know to have a total equal to mine.

In 1993, he waited more than six months before seeking care after a Navy doctor recommended that he consult a dermatologist for a lesion on his left shoulder that turned out to be his first melanoma. It was excised and has not recurred.

Pathology tests showed that the two other melanomas — detected on his upper left arm in 2000 and on his nose in 2002 — were of the least dangerous kind, in situ. In that type the malignant cells are confined to the outer layer of skin.

The most serious melanoma was spotted on his temple in 2000 by the attending physician at the United States Capitol after it had escaped the eye of Mr. McCain’s personal physician at Mayo Clinic Scottsdale. (The Capitol physician also spotted another melanoma that was in situ.)
The melanoma on Mr. McCain’s left temple was 2 centimeters in diameter and 0.22 centimeters deep, and was fully excised with wide margins, 2 centimeters in each direction, his campaign staff said.

Two of the melanomas were in situ, which are very superficial and almost never a threat after their removal. (Wikipedia says 100% survival rate. I wouldn’t go out on that limb)

Dr. Altman’s article is most concerned with the 2000 melanoma. At 0.22 depth, it is a Clark Level II. Clark Levels are used for the degree of invasion of the MM into the patient’s skin. So far as Clarks go, .22 only penetrates into the second layer of skin. Of my five melanoma, three were .26 or less. What are the survival rates for this type of melanoma?

For patients with a melanoma like Mr. McCain’s who remained free of the disease for the first five years after diagnosis, the probability of recurrence during the next five years was 14 percent and death 9 percent, a study published in 1992 found.

The melanoma is almost eight years old. In 2000 Sen. McCain had surgery to have lymph nodes removed(This resulted in noticeable puffiness and scarring on his face still seen today), they tested negative.

Any oncologist will tell you, that a MM patient is never totally free or safe from having the disease come back. The statistics in the Senator’s case are strongly in his favor.

A member of Congress, New Mexico Rep. Steven Schiff, died of melanoma in 1998.

Since the above article came from the NY Times, some have considered this another ‘hit piece’ on the Senator. Ed Morissey:

Altman then launches into an indirect criticism of McCain for not releasing his medical records yet in this campaign. He released those records early in his previous campaign, but as Altman notes, that was because they were part of a public study on the health of former POWs. Altman fails to mention that no other candidate in this race has released medical records.

The criticism isn’t indirect. The article ends saying- “Mr. McCain is occasionally asked on the campaign trail about his age. But he is almost never asked about his health.”

Professor Bainbridge writes,

The Times has taken the gloves off and is digging deep for mud to sling. Ironically, of course, McCain bashing by the Times at this point redounds to the Senator’s benefit. Lots of conservatives worried that McCain was too cozy with the liberal media. The Times is solving that problem for McCain. The people in the base who need to come around loathe the Times for its pretensions and biases. It’s the old “enemy of my enemy” story.

Even so, it’s damn shoddy journalism.

I’ve known about Sen. McCain’s melanoma history, it isn’t common knowledge to the American public. I can recall next to no mention of it in this Presidential cycle. The Times article may have been overdue. Bringing the facts out to the public about a possible future President’s health and cancer history doesn’t seem like a hit piece to me but in depth reporting instead.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Health, , , , , , , ,
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Comments

  1. Hal says:

    First, thanks for sharing this with us. The personal angle is something missing from a lot of these stories and it’s something I appreciate about blogs…

    Bringing the facts out to the public about a possible future President’s health and cancer history doesn’t seem like a hit piece to me but in depth reporting instead.

    Sadly, at this point in our politics, anything that is negative about a conservative is simply a hit piece – even if it’s just the simple facts about a situation that could make the VP choice even more relevant than it usually is.

  2. Bithead says:

    My Dad had it.
    While it’s serious, it’s usually treatable.
    As with Mondull, when he attacked Reagan on the age/health issue, I suspect this boils down to not having anything else to run on.

  3. Hal says:

    I suspect this boils down to not having anything else to run on.

    Wow. You really do live in an alternate reality.

    BTW, last time I checked, the NYTimes isn’t running for president, so I’m not really even sure WTF you’re referring to, other than just spouting the usual right wing spin. Maybe it’s just reflex by now.

    Oh, an another thing, considering the treatment Edwards got with his wife’s cancer – and she wasn’t even the one running – I’m pretty sure that this stuff is pretty much considered to be open grounds for discussion.

    Well, I guess as long as it’s about Democrats. McCain… Well, that’s another matter entirely.

  4. floyd says:

    Hal;
    There’s a good number who think McCain is Democrat enough to take some abuse!
    Don’t you??[lol]

  5. Hal says:

    There’s a good number who think McCain is Democrat enough to take some abuse!

    I think that’s an issue within your own party that you’re going to have to resolve without our help.

  6. Bithead says:

    Wow. You really do live in an alternate reality.

    BTW, last time I checked, the NYTimes isn’t running for president, so I’m not really even sure WTF you’re referring to, other than just spouting the usual right wing spin. Maybe it’s just reflex by now.

    Nonsense. Mind you, I’m no fan of Mccain…
    The fact was and remains that the Democrats have yet to mount any credible challange to McCain on matters of policy… and are forced into questions like that little spot on his neck.

  7. Hal says:

    The fact was and remains that the Democrats have yet to mount any credible challange to McCain on matters of policy… and are forced into questions like that little spot on his neck.

    Again, which democrats are asking these questions? Again, you’re just simply parroting the whole NYTIMES == DEMOCRATS mantra which is really quite old, but sadly a mainstay with the party faithful.

    In any event, I’d quibble with the credible challenges to McCain, but the overarching point is the – ahem – primary that the democratic candidates are engaged in, currently. Clearly, this works to McCain’s advantage as they are forced to ignore him for the moment. To infer that they have nothing because they’re way too busy dealing with each other is hilarious. To claim that the “democrats” are asking these questions is simply ridiculous.

    Still, gotta go with what you’ve got, I suppose. Courage, as they say.

  8. Tlaloc says:

    I prefer to avoid these kinds of questions. They are pertinent and relevant but they just feel ghoulish to me. McCain should win or lose (mostly the latter) based on (the incredibly weakness of) his positions. The issue of his health is probably best relegated to the question of who to tap for his running mate.

  9. Bithead says:

    Again, which democrats are asking these questions?

    Heh. You figured out that the Times is populated by Democrats and those farther left? Gee, I’m impressed.

  10. Hal says:

    That’s precisely the kind of response I’d expect from someone without any real answer.

    Nice try, though.

  11. Don in Seattle says:

    The melanoma on Mr. McCain’s left temple was 2 centimeters in diameter and 0.22 centimeters deep, and was fully excised with wide margins, 2 centimeters in each direction, his campaign staff said.

    Dr. Altman’s article is most concerned with the 2000 melanoma. At 0.22 depth, it is a Clark Level II. Clark Levels are used for the degree of invasion of the MM into the patient’s skin. So far as Clark’s go, .22 only penetrates into the second layer of skin.

    Bill — The thickness of McCain’s melanoma in 2000 was .22 CENTIMETERS. That’s 2.2 millimeters as we usually measure melanoma thickness. The Clark’s level, which is NOT measured at all, but is a skin level penetrated, is not stated.

  12. DL says:

    My problem with McCain isn’t what’s on his skin but what’s in his head –

    Those who will vote for him -no matter how liberal he is just to beat liberals are merely consigning theirselves to the GOP plantation, hopin for scraps and dragging themselves in thefuture to vote for ever more liberal candidates. Face it liberalism sells but so does unbridled sex -ask Spitzer.

  13. Hal says:

    Face it liberalism sells but so does unbridled sex -ask Spitzer.

    Or ask your own ancestors. After all, evolution pretty much revolves around it. And pretty much all previous cultures loved it.

    In any event, smell that liberalism. It’s inevitable. As Buckley said, a Conservative is someone who strides history and yells “STOP”. There’s just one teensy problem with that: Mom nature doesn’t listen to you (or anyone else, for that matter). Which is why, of course, we invent gods which we imagine *do* listen to our yelling of “STOP”. But that’s another subject, I suppose.

  14. Hal says:

    Oh, and I suppose if one is going to bring up Spitzer, we should bring up McCain’s own sexual infidelities and past indiscretions?