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Doctor Explains McCain's Appearance

Sen. John McCain's doctor today explained why his left jaw is somewhat larger than the right, as seen in this May 7, 2008 photo. (Associated Press)

By Garance Franke-Ruta
Questions about the way politicians look can seem impertinent or downright rude. And yet ask the voters do. So today, John McCain's 2000 cancer surgeon sought to address what he delicately described as "what appear to be numerous questions about the prominence of the Senator's left jaw."

As described by Michael L. Hinni, M.D., of the department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery at the Mayo Clinic, the story of Sen. McCain's facial asymmetry begins in August 2000, when he removed a 2.2 millimeter thick by 2 centimeter wide invasive melanoma from Sen. McCain's face.

Located on the left lower temple region of McCain's face, the cancer was removed using a "comprehensive surgical procedure ... that included sentinel lymph node biopsy, removal of the cutaneous melanoma and key lymph nodes, and reconstruction of his left temple region," the doctor said in a statement released by the campaign.

This surgical treatment involved removing a 2 centimeter margin of normal skin around the melanoma, "resulting in a 6 centimeter by 6 centimeter roughly circular wound on the left side of the Senator's face."

The underlying mid-cheek salivary gland was also removed, in part to remove the lymph nodes inside the gland, and also to protect McCain's facial nerves from injury.

This "large incision was necessary to safely remove all cancer with an appropriate margin" and resulted in "a wound requiring sizeable reconstruction," explained Hinni. The large incision, which left a visible scar on the left side of McCain's face, "was necessary so that a flap of skin and soft tissue consistent with the color and texture of the Senator's facial skin could be elevated and advanced/rotated into the wound," Hinni continued.

This, however, led to an outcome that, more than seven years later, has fueled voter interest and media speculation about the nature of a visible protuberance on McCain's face. Said Hinni: "To answer what appears to be numerous questions about the prominence of the Senator's left jaw: this is a result of an absence of soft tissue on the face in front of his ear that makes the masseter (the chewing muscle) over the jaw appear more prominent. To be clear, the swelling is not due to any evidence of cancer."

By Web Politics Editor  |  May 23, 2008; 5:54 PM ET
Categories:  Topic A  
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