Veteran U.S. Sen. John McCain ending treatment for brain cancer

Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain has chosen to discontinue medical treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer, his family said in a statement on Friday, a year after the Vietnam War hero announced his prognosis.

81-year-old made decision 'with his usual strength of will,' family says in statement

Arizona Sen. John McCain pauses before speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington last October. McCain's family says he has chosen to discontinue medical treatment for brain cancer. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain has chosen to discontinue medical treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer, his family said in a statement on Friday, a year after the Vietnam War hero announced his prognosis.

"John has surpassed expectations for his survival," the family said, adding that the disease's progression and McCain's age, 81, had led him to stop treatment for the "aggressive glioblastoma."

"With his usual strength of will, he has now chosen to discontinue medical treatment," the family said. 

McCain, who has represented Arizona in the Senate and House of Representatives for 35 years, previously said the cancer was discovered in July 2017. He has not been at the U.S. Capitol this year. 

He also had surgery for an intestinal infection in April.

If he should resign his seat or die soon, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey would name a replacement to serve in McCain's post until the 2020 election. The winner of that election would serve the remainder of McCain's term through 2022.

McCain has had a reputation for speaking his mind, which led to a running feud with U.S. President Donald Trump that grew heated in 2015, when McCain said Trump's candidacy had "fired up the crazies."

Trump retorted that the senator was "not a war hero" and cited McCain's 5½ years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese by saying: "I like people who weren't captured."

Sources close to McCain have said Trump would not be invited to the funeral.

Reaction from family, colleagues

American political leaders from both parties are paying tribute and offering prayers for the ailing senator, but the president has so far been silent.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have both praised McCain, offering prayers for his family, as has Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. 

Former Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman, a close friend of McCain and a former Democratic nominee for vice-president, said Friday that "becoming John McCain's friend has been one of the great blessings of my life. Today I am praying for him and his family."

McCain's wife, Cindy, tweeted: "I love my husband with all of my heart. God bless everyone who has cared for my husband along this journey."

Gov. Ducey called McCain "an American hero" who always put his country before himself. A "spirt of service and civility" guided McCain's life, Ducey said, adding he stands as a model for Americans regardless of political affiliation.

McCain underwent surgery in July 2017 to remove a blood clot in his brain after being diagnosed with an aggressive tumour called a glioblastoma. It's the same type of tumour that killed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy at age 77 in 2009.

McCain rebounded quickly, however, returning to Washington and entering the Senate in late July to a standing ovation from his colleagues. In a dramatic turn, he later cast a deciding vote against the Republican health-care bill, earning the wrath of Trump, who frequently cites McCain's vote at campaign events.

The longtime senator's condition worsened last fall, and he has been in Arizona since December.

Storied political, military career

McCain sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 but lost out to George W. Bush. He secured the nomination in 2008 but was defeated by Democratic nominee Barack Obama.​

McCain has been known as a conservative and a foreign policy hawk with a traditional Republican view of world affairs. He has had a reputation for a hot temper and rarely shied away from a fight but has had Democratic fans who admired the way he could take a civil, bipartisan approach.​

McCain is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and his colleagues named the $716 billion US defence policy bill for him. Trump did not mention McCain when he signed it earlier this month.

McCain is the son and grandson of navy admirals and, after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy, became a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War. He was shot down during a bombing run over Hanoi and captured on Oct. 26, 1967. The crash and assault by his captors left him with two broken arms, a broken leg, broken shoulder and numerous stab wounds.

He spent more than five years in various prisons, including the notorious "Hanoi Hilton," where he was tortured and left with lasting disabilities.​

McCain provided one of the most dramatic moments in recent Senate history in July 2017 when he voted against a Trump-backed bill that would have repealed the health-care law pushed through by Obama.

The moment John McCain votes no

5 years ago
Duration 0:19
Republican senator votes No on a measure to repeal parts of former U.S. president Barack Obama's health care law

The vote came late at night not long after McCain's diagnosis, and he still bore a black eye and scar from the surgery when he gave an emphatic thumbs-down gesture to scuttle the measure.

McCain was elected to the House in 1982 and after two terms was elected to the Senate to replace retiring conservative leader Barry Goldwater.

With files from The Associated Press