April 1st, 2008
02:44 PM ET

John McCain's health

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent

Tonight, we are going to air a piece about Sen. John McCain's health. Truth is, it has been hard to get many details about the man, as his staff has not released his medical records since 2000. We know, as I'm sure you do by now, that if he wins, he will be the oldest president ever elected. He would be 2 years and 165 days older than Ronald Reagan was at the time of his inauguration. Though, I must admit, I love that his 96-year-old mother has occasionally been on the trail with him. He is making the point that he has good genes.

You have probably also heard McCain has malignant melanoma. Our research shows that if elected, he would not be the first president to have cancer. Grover Cleveland had cancer in his jaw. Reagan had both colon cancer and skin cancer, a less serious basal cell carcinoma, on his nose.  From what we have gathered, McCain has Stage IIA melanoma, which carries an average 10-year survival rate of 66 percent. Dermatologists say McCain's odds are better because the odds improve the longer you go without a recurrence.

If you see the pictures of his face, you will no doubt see a scar running down the left side and persistent puffiness of his left cheek. This is from the aggressive operation he had to remove the cancer as well as the lymph nodes in the area, as well as part of his parotid gland. When we show those pictures to independent doctors, some have told us an operation of that magnitude would’ve been done only for a much more serious and aggressive cancer than IIA melanoma. Other doctors disagree, saying McCain's aggressive operation may have been done out of an abundance of caution, where doctors removed more lymph nodes and other tissue than is normally done, because he is, well, John McCain.

Tonight, we will "show" you exactly what the senator had done and why. And, based on everything we know now, we will closely examine and dissect his health. But, the larger question I discussed with my staff today: Is this really important? How important is the health of  McCain or any of the candidates for that matter? Should the medical records be more forthcoming?

Programming Note: Watch Dr. Gupta’s report on Senator John McCain’s health on Anderson Cooper at 10 p.m. ET

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

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soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. marlene good

    I think it's very important that the President of the United States be free of any serious illness that could be terminal; after all, the next one in line would be his VP and the voters did not nominate the VP; so we could end up with a President we would have never nominated or supported...we voted for McCain and hoped his VP would do that particular job satisfactorily...there may be a little scam to this also...we end up with the conservative President we would have never elected.

    April 12, 2008 at 14:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DLibb88

      Marlene Good...Are you raising the same health concerns in 2016 that you did in 2008? I would hope you have the same concerns over Hillary's health that you did John McCain.

      September 9, 2016 at 13:31 | Report abuse |
  2. Donovan

    Dear Doctor, please give us some indication what happens to people's thinking (impact on a normal brain) during and after six years of incarceration as a prisoner of war...as in the case like Mr.
    McCain. Have there been any studies showing a trend in loss of
    normal function, personality problems, decreased comprehension,
    early onset of alchimers , flashbacks , instability, confusion ,temper or other mental malady? How many US vets are in VA hospital presently continuing treatment for disabilities due to a long prior prison confinement as a (POW) like McCain's war experience ?
    Will they ever be mentally normal again ?

    April 28, 2008 at 11:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. John Mohan

    What is the status of the melanoma on the let side of Mr. McCain's face?. From observation, the condition seems to worsen, and yet little is said of his condition.

    What is the medical status of Mr Obama and Ms Clinton??

    Thank you.

    April 29, 2008 at 13:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Tanya

    I am concerned about the changing features in Senator McCain’s face over the past few years. The left side of his face appears to have a mass compared to the right. He post-surgical photos, months out , do not have the mass-like appearance I would expect if this was “post surgical effects.”

    Can you do a time-related photo comparison of Senator McCain to address this question?

    I would also appreciate some clarification regarding “prognosis” with melanoma. If Stage 2 disease has a 60% life expectancy of 10 years- what is the prognosis of other disease stages. I also think it’s important to review that staging is dynamic and changes according to disease progression. So, what are the plans for continued surveillance and monitoring?

    Thank you,

    Portland, Oregon

    May 20, 2008 at 13:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Boots

    I deeply respect Senator McCain's military service and the price he has paid in having been a POW during the Vietnam war. But considering that incarceration, it would seem unlikely that he emerged unscathed by PTSD, a fact We the People should care about in today's highly volatile world. There are many stories about him losing his temper and with all due respect to his knowledge of the military as knowledge, being someone who knows about PTSD I'd also like to point out that fixation on the "thing which hurt you" is a hallmark of PTSD. Since the nature of the syndrome is to 'run away' (psychologically) while overreacting in the present, if Senator McCain has PTSD that would seem to make him unsuited to be President, although still – like all those who suffer from this scourge – a human being worthy of love, support and for his service, our national gratitude. I'm just saying we as a nation need to know the truth – the whole truth here.

    May 22, 2008 at 18:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Susan A. Hunt

    I had a similar surgery to Senator McCain's in 2004, for a melanoma that was rated a Stage IV at a large melanoma center,due to size and depth, having had cells dragged into the reconstructive scar line of he primary removal by careless surgery locally. Also had 3 lymph nodes removed which showed no sign of spread.
    Senator McCain's brow on that side appears to be paralyzed, as is mine, by damage to the nerve in that area., though I have seen no mention of this. I read reference elsewhere to a small second tumor that was near the larger one at his surgery site, and there did not appear to be a theory for where that came from.
    Melanoma is such a mystery still that I think it would be only fair to the voters to have the complete medical records made public. It has long been suspicious to me that full disclosure was not made at the beginning of the campaign.
    It also appears that he had reconstructive plastic surgery soon after the original surgery, as a wide excision in that area leaves a sizeable and deep plug removed, much larger that what the Senator seems to display.

    May 29, 2008 at 11:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. citizenkim

    I would like someone to explore his health more thoroughly. Its great that his mother is apparently healthy at 96 but women live longer than men and both his father and his grandfather dropped dead of a heart attack (at 70 and 63 respectively) and that is never mentioned.

    September 4, 2008 at 11:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Kathy Conrad

    You people need to quit living in the world of what ifs.......if I were a cancer survivor I would hate it if someone told me I could not be in public service because well....I might die from the cancer. What about Joe Biden? Maybe he could die of a brain anurism – after all he has already had two of those – maybe he isn't qualified medically to be a Senator let alone a VP. You cannot live life based on what ifs.

    September 4, 2008 at 18:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Ron

    As you watch Senator McCain walk it appears to me that he has many signs of Parkinson's Disease. He has a rigid shuffling gate and "masked Faces". This can be a very difficult disease to diagnose in its early stages, but given that Parkinson's can be associated with dementia, I am concerned about Mr McCains health regardless of what his doctors are telling the public.

    September 15, 2008 at 09:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Daniel Kerlinsky MD

    How did we get so far into this election and not ask about the large tumor on Senator McCain's face?

    Why didn't he have reconstructive rotator cuff surgery for his arms?

    Why is it most of the public believes he can't raise his arms because of torture in North Vietnam when his fractured ams and legs were flail injuries caused by his failure to keep arms and legs tucked in during ejection from his jet?

    What do we know about McCain's lifelong alcohol consumption and alcohol's effect on his brain?

    Where are his military medical and disciplinary records?

    Why is no one discussing the scandal of President Reagan's Alzheimer's disease affecting his presidency and the failure of our White House medical system to remove him from office?

    The only soldiers who do not get PTSD from war are those with sociopathic personalities; where is the McCain MMPI personality inventory done on intake and his treatment records on his return?

    The odds of Sarah Palin not being acting president while McCain is hospitalized again are rather low. Look to Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Syria, Venezuala, and Al Queda to be waiting for that day.

    Our Congressman Steve Schiff died of melanoma after a brief illness. If the American public is being deceived on the likelihood of Senator McCain's melanoma staying in remission aren't we taking more than a 40% risk? What about metastasis to the brain?

    September 15, 2008 at 22:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Melanie

    I saw this post this morning from another blogger on another site and it concerned me:

    "Changes in the appearance of McCain's left eye are starting to buzz around the blogs. Frame by frame shots of recent appearances compared to older ones show a noticeable droop and puffiness combined with a different blink pattern. McCain also just recently hired a famous expert makeup artist for the first time. While some are asking if he's had a mild stroke others are putting this together with some very obvious behavioral changes from the "old" John McCain: Melanoma is often a precursor to a metastatic brain tumor.
    Among the symptoms from a metastatic brain tumor:
    – Emotional instability, rapid emotional changes
    – Memory loss, impaired judgment, calculating deficiencies
    – Personality changes
    – Pupils of eyes are a different size
    – Vision changes
    - double vision, decreased vision
    – Weakness of a body area

    This really concerned me because, frankly, I have noticed changes in McCain's left eye in relation to his right lately. Even one comedian recently did a piece about McCain's blinking.

    Could this erratic behavior that we're seeing from this candidate be attributed to medical problems rather than his being a so-called maverick?

    How do we the American public get this issue to be addressed by the press?

    September 25, 2008 at 16:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Ginny Swartz

    Why would a 72 year old man with a history of malignant melonoma and a family history of heart disease choose a politcal novice to be a running mate unless his judgment was impaired? We have seen George Bush turn to his VP for guidance on most of his national defence dilemmas since 911. What would McCain gain from Govenor Palin after the election? Could he believe that he will live healthy and unimpaired throughout a 4 year term? Does he really believe Governor Palin could step in to the presidency in the very possible event of a seriuos illness or his death? If he believes that, is he delusional? Could he have brain mets?

    October 1, 2008 at 18:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Cathy S.

    This has been a fascinating race for dealing with "isms": racism, sexism, ageism, but it seems that, while most of us can agree that racism and sexism are unacceptable, ageism generally continues to be considered fair game. Many argue that the voter needs to seriously consider McCain's age and health. But an article I read today set me wondering: Does Obama's race make him more likely to be assassinated? Now, hear me out: the article I read was about a Briton (in GB) who was recently shot (three times) for wearing an Obama t-shirt. Let's face it–the kind of person who shoots other people is off-kilter–the same kind of person who harbors deep-seated racism. So, though we may wish to avoid bringing race into the discussion, it seems logical to think that Obama is at higher-than-average risk of losing his life or health during his term of office due to a violent attack from some unstable citizen. Heaven forbid, of course, and heaven forbid that McCain should suffer a fatal return of his melanoma–but if it did happen, that would leave Biden in the presidency, a man very few years behind McCain in years, and a man whom Democrats themselves did not choose even among their top three candidates for office. Democratically speaking, if Biden were to become president, it would hardly reflect the will of the people, and, in terms of age, we'd be pretty much where we would be with McCain.

    October 8, 2008 at 22:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Edward Burnam

    Dr. Gupta,
    I find it hard to believe that medical records would not be released in this context . It seems that the pubic has the right to health disclosure in this matter. He wants to be the president of the United States of America.... And to be honest many people that I spoke with after the last debate, Republican and Democrat thought he was acting a little strange during the debate. Please do the American people a large favor and investigate, investigate, and investigate.

    October 9, 2008 at 14:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. marge macaluso

    Why did CNN focus on only past presidents and other world leaders on health matters and leave out President Kennedy's health problems his so called, Dr. Feelgood who prescribed all those pain killers for Kennedy, which the American public knew nothing about until after the fact. They focused on President Nixon's medical records at length. John McCain's lengthly medical report and hardly a mention of Barack Obama's one page medical report.

    October 12, 2008 at 15:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Erna Lamarta

    John McCain is also a very good politician. he did not win because the people are not satisfied on the Republicans.'.'

    April 30, 2010 at 12:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Martha Thomson

    john mccain seems to be a very reasonable and intellegent guy but he is not as charismatic as obama.,'

    October 4, 2010 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
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    John McCain followed his father and grandfather, both four-star admirals, into the United States Navy, graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958. He became a naval aviator, flying ground-attack aircraft from aircraft carriers. During the Vietnam War, he was almost killed in the 1967 USS Forrestal fire. In October 1967, while on a bombing mission over Hanoi, he was shot down, seriously injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese. He was a prisoner of war until 1973. McCain experienced episodes of torture, and refused an out-of-sequence early repatriation offer. His war wounds left him with lifelong physical limitations.,.:^

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.