What You Should Know: Glioblastoma

August 26, 2018


Sen. John McCain fell victim to one of the most common and deadliest of malignant primary brain tumors.

What is it?

Glioblastoma (GBM) 101

  • Exact cause is unknown
  • Found in the brain or spinal cord
  • Represents about 15% of all primary brain tumors
  • VERY aggressive type of brain tumor, but it usually does not spread to other parts of the body
  • Patients typically undergo surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, followed by radiation and/or chemotherapy

Sen. McCain is NOT the first public figure to suffer from glioblastoma

  • In 2009, McCain’s Senate colleague, Ted Kennedy (D-MA), died from the disease.
  • In 2015, Beau Biden, son of VP Joe Biden, died at 42.
  • More than 12,000 cases diagnosed last year in the U.S. – only 10% of patients survive longer than 5 years.

“He was good company, excellent company. I think I’m going to miss him more than I can say. We disagreed on most issues, but I admitted — but I admired his passion for his convictions, his patience with the hard and sometimes dull work of legislating, and his uncanny sense for when differences could be bridged and his cause advanced by degrees.”

Sen. McCain at Sen. Kennedy’s Memorial Service, August 2009

U.S. senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain died on August 25 (Kennedy in 2009 and McCain in 2018) from glioblastoma.

“At the single most excruciating moment of life, when it”s time to decide whether to live or die, there can be intense pressure from family and friends. Given his importance to the political blife of the country, you have to imagine Sen. John McCain has gone through more of this pressure than most people faced with choosing whether to continue fighting terminal illness.

Sen. John McCain”s family announced on Friday that he would stop treatment for glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer he was diagnosed with last year. In their statement, McCain”s family said the Arizona Senator has ‘surpassed expectations for his survival.A But the progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age render their verdict.’

Making the decision about when to stop treatment is excruciating. ‘When you know that you”re losing the battle against cancer, you have to make sure you prepare for the worst,’ says Dr. Raja Flores, the chairman of the Department of Thoracic Surgery at Mount Sinai Health System. ‘The toughest thing that I”ve seen is when patients will continue to fight to the end because they feel that that”s what their family wants.’


Sen. McCain had been receiving treatment for his brain cancer since July 2017. The decision to stop comes after he has been absent from Washington for months. The McCain family highlighted the senator”s ‘usual strength of will’ when announcing his decision to discontinue his cancer fight.”

by Jenna Lee,