Report: McCain appears cancer-free, healthy

Republican Sen. John McCain, who would be the oldest first-term president ever sworn in if he wins his White House bid this year, is in "excellent physical and mental health," the leader of his medical team said Friday.

"We can find nothing in his medical history that would preclude him from serving as president of the United States with vigor," Dr. John Eckstein, who serves as McCain's primary care physician at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., told reporters.

Eckstein and other Mayo physicians involved in McCain's care spoke with reporters after the Arizona lawmaker released 1,173 pages of medical records. Campaign spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said the extent of McCain's disclosure is "unprecedented in the history of presidential campaigns."

Neither of the Democratic presidential candidates — senators Barack Obama, D-Ill., or Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. — have released health records.

McCain's documents provide minute personal details about the senator's medical history, ranging from his battle with melanoma to a bout of skin fungus. The senator takes medications to lower cholesterol, prevent kidney stones, and, when he's traveling, to sleep.

McCain, who turns 72 on Aug. 29, frequently jokes about his age. He also points out that his 96-year-old mother, Roberta, still trots the globe with her twin sister.

The senator's medical records indicate that his most serious problem has been recurring skin cancer. He had four malignant melanomas — the most dangerous type of skin cancer — removed between 1993 and 2002. One involved a five-hour operation that left what surgeon Michael Hinni described as "a fairly sizeable wound" on the senator's left jaw.

Surgeons repaired the wound by moving skin on McCain's face, but made several subsequent efforts to reduce the swelling, which still can give the senator the appearance of a ballplayer with a wad of tobacco in his cheek. According to the medical reports, the doctors seemed more bothered than the senator by the cosmetic problem. "He is not considering other therapies or operations to correct this," Hinni noted after a 2001 visit.

McCain returns for checkups with Mayo Clinic dermatologist Suzanne Connolly every three to four months. "She watches him like a hawk," Eckstein said. McCain's doctors said the fact that no new melanomas have been discovered is a good sign.

One outside expert agrees. Although the senator remains at high risk for additional melanomas, these types of skin cancers can usually be found early enough to be easily treated, posing little risk of death, says Martin Weinstock, a professor of dermatology and community health at Brown University.

While melanoma can return at any time, it's most likely to return within a few years of surgery, says Suzanne Connolly, McCain's dermatologist. She said doctors found a small squamous cell cancer — a common type that isn't life-threatening — on his leg in February.

A man of McCain's age is probably at greater risk of death from causes other than skin cancer, Weinstock said.

McCain's doctors say he is in good cardiovascular health. A cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, Christopher Cannon, not a member of McCain's medical team, says McCain has a 22% risk of a heart attack or death in the next decade, based on data from the Framingham Heart Study. Doctors routinely use the study to calculate risk.

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