Speed Reads

McCain vs. cancer

John McCain's type of brain cancer is aggressive, sneaky, and fairly rare

Last Friday, doctors at the Mayo Clinic removed what they though was a blood clot from Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) brain, above his left eyebrow, and on Wednesday they announced that what they removed was actually a tumor called a glioblastoma multiforme. That isn't good news. The doctors removed all of the tumor they could see on brain scans, but the cancer they found is one of the most aggressive types of brain cancer. It's also hard to contain, typically sending microscopic roots out into the brain, Dr. Joshua Bederson, chief of neurosurgery at New York's Mt. Sinai, tells The Associated Press.

The location of the tumor, above the eye, is fortuitous, as it allowed relatively easy removal, but the chance of recurrence is high, and the American Cancer Society puts the odds of surviving for five years or more at just 4 percent for people over 55; McCain is 80. Bederson, who has no direct knowledge of McCain's case, says he reminds his own glioblastoma patients that people do beat the odds. "It's a small number," he said, "But that's the hope my patients have when they leave my office."

McCain's doctors said he may now undergo chemotherapy and radiation, a process that can take weeks or months. The American Brain Tumor Association estimates that only about 12,400 new glioblastoma cases will be diagnosed this year, making it a fairly unusual type of cancer. It isn't related to McCain's history with melanoma, a dangerous skin cancer, the doctors said. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who spoke with McCain's doctors, has more details in the CNN clip below. Peter Weber