By Jon Delano

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – While not familiar with U.S. Sen. John McCain’s specific medical condition, two local cancer experts acknowledged the senator faces a difficult period ahead.

“Senator McCain has what’s called a glioblastoma, which is a very aggressive form of brain cancer,” Dr. Stanley Marks of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center said.

“It starts in the brain and typically stays in the brain.”

Marks, who successfully treated Penguins’ Mario Lemieux and Steelers’ James Conner when they had cancer, said McCain’s cancer is different.

“The problem is that it is very difficult to successfully treat. Typically, if possible, it’s surgically removed and after that patients are given radiation and an oral form of chemotherapy.”

“Unfortunately, in the vast majority of patients the cancer recurs, typically within a year or year and a half. It’s very rare to be cured of this type of cancer.”

Marks is chairman of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, and he appeared at a taping of the Sunday Business Page with KDKA’s Jon Delano, along with Dr. Robert Ferris, director of the Center.

Delano: “Where are we in the treatment of this and particularly new research that might help individuals like Senator McCain?”

Ferris: “So as Dr. Marks said, this is quite aggressive form of cancer, but I think what our scientists across the country are learning and some at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center are that not all glioblastomas are the same.”

Ferris says treatment today has improved with targeted therapies designed for an individual’s unique make-up.

“Although these are pretty rarely curable, we can prolong life and survival with some of the new vaccines and new therapies. Although a patient may eventually succumb, we can improve and prolong survival.”

This could help McCain, at least short-term.

But a cure?

Delano: “It has happened?”

Marks: “It has happened, but it’s rare.”

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