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Doctors 'optimistic' after Sen. McCain cancer surgery

No melanoma cells in lymph nodes, preliminary report shows

PHOENIX (CNN) -- Doctors said they were "very optimistic" after Sen. John McCain underwent more than five hours of surgery Saturday to remove two cancerous skin lesions, adding that they believed the cancer had not spread to his lymph nodes.

Sen. McCain's wife, Cindy, and Dr. John Eckstein report the Arizona Republican's condition after his surgery  

McCain will probably be released from the hospital in two to three days, not Sunday as originally believed, doctors said.

Dr. John Eckstein, the senator's internist at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, said McCain was in "excellent spirits" following the procedure on his temple and upper arm. A preliminary report showed that the cancer had not spread to the senator's lymph nodes, but it would take several days to evaluate the removed surgical tissue, he said.

More information would be provided when it became available, Eckstein said.

Eckstein said McCain's first words to him after surgery were 'Call (Senate Majority Leader) Trent Lott. I know he'll be on pins and needles.'"

On Friday, the 63-year-old Republican senator from Arizona said he was told the surgery "would be relatively short, relatively simple" and he would remain in the hospital overnight Saturday.

Asked why the surgery took longer than anticipated, Eckstein said the first part of the surgery was "a very detailed surgery," with doctors making sure that the nerve that controlled the muscle functions of the face was preserved and that all branches of that nerve were preserved.

The second part of the surgery was devoted to repairing the wound.

"We are very, very optimistic that all of the tumor was removed," Eckstein added.

McCain's wife, Cindy, expressed relief over the prognosis.

Sen. McCain arrives with his wife at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix on Saturday morning  

"I have said many prayers this week, as you can well imagine," she said. "All of my prayers have been answered.

"My husband is in wonderful shape, we have a wonderful report," Cindy McCain added. "He came in this morning joking ... kept us in stitches all morning.

Doctors for McCain issued a statement on Friday explaining that his two new melanomas and another spot the senator had removed seven years ago are unrelated, which means the cancer has probably not spread from one part of the body to another.

The doctors said the skin cancers diagnosed last week on the left side of McCain's face and his arm are separate, distinct "primary melanomas" and operable.

Doctors said the removal of the cancer on McCain's arm would be a simple incision. But after removing the melanoma on his face, they would also remove and test a lymph node to determine if the cancer has spread.

"I've been in a number of fights in my life and this is just another one and I'm sure I will prevail," McCain said on Friday.

Tests included blood work, a chest X-ray, an electrocardiogram, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), a CT scan and an echocardiogram, according to the doctors.

The tests did not find any evidence the cancer had spread to other areas of McCain's body, such as the lungs or liver, the doctors' statement said.

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It can quickly spread to other parts of the body and claims about 7,700 lives in the United States each year.

Melanoma near the skin surface can be surgically removed, with excellent chances of recovery.

The senator revealed Friday that he had a biopsy taken of the lesion on his face once before, in 1996, and it was then determined to be benign. A Capitol Hill doctor recently suggested he get it checked again.

McCain also had a melanoma lesion removed from his shoulder in 1993. When that was revealed in medical records he released in 1999, McCain's doctor, Eckstein, said that because there had been no recurrence of the disease in more than five years, "we think he is cured."

McCain said he expects to return to the campaign trail the week of Labor Day. He has canceled campaign events scheduled soon for several GOP congressional candidates around the country.


An explanation of the skin cancers McCain has had, from CNN's Elizabeth Cohen

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Friday, August 18, 2000


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