Politics & Government

McCain's health is solid, his doctors say

WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and a septuagenarian cancer survivor, is in excellent overall health, according to his doctors and medical records released Friday.

McCain, who'll be 72 in August, would be the oldest man elected president if he wins. His age and related health issues have been a recurring subtext of the campaign, and voters regularly ask McCain about it on the campaign trail. His likely Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, suggested this month that McCain was "losing his bearings," which McCain's aides took as a slap at his age.

"Age should not be a limiting factor in this day and age. ... Sen. McCain is in excellent physical and mental health," Dr. John D. Eckstein, a doctor at the Mayo Clinic who's treated McCain since 1992, said on a conference call with reporters. "We can find nothing in his medical history that would preclude him from serving as president of the United States with vigor."

McCain's last complete physical was March 10. He'd dropped six pounds in the past year, to 163, which he told Eckstein was due to his "long days and frenetic pace." He has two drinks a month.

According to the records, a synopsis of which is posted online, McCain has had four malignant melanomas removed — from his left shoulder in 1993, from his left arm and his left lower temple in 2000, and from his left nasal sidewall in 2002. The one on his temple, removed in August 2000, was invasive, meaning that it extended below the top layer of skin. All the melanomas were independent of each other, Eckstein said.

"There was and is no evidence of recurrence or metastasis — meaning spread — of the invasive melanoma nearly eight years after the surgery ... the prognosis for Sen. McCain is good because the time of greatest risk for recurrence of invasive melanoma is within the first few years after the surgery," Eckstein said.

McCain has had other less serious skin cancers removed over the years, according to Eckstein, and he has a skin examination every three to four months. His last one, on May 12, found no new lesions.

About one in 58 Americans will develop malignant melanoma in their lifetimes, said Dr. Suzanne M. Connolly, McCain's dermatologist. Connolly said McCain's fair eyes, fair hair, light complexion, history of excess sun exposure and sunburns account for his melanomas.

Other health issues:

_ Four small kidney stones in McCain's right kidney and some small benign cysts in both kidneys. Neither affects the kidneys' functions. McCain takes hydrochlorothiazide to prevent more kidney stones, and Amiloride to preserve potassium in his bloodstream.

_ Reduced range of motion of his shoulders, arms and knees, because he was tortured as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. He doesn't complain of pain, nor does he take pain medication.

_ Slightly high cholesterol, controlled by Simvastatin, a medication. In May, his cholesterol was 192. There's no evidence of heart or other cardiovascular disease, or of decreased blood supply to his heart muscle, despite the fact that McCain smoked two packs of cigarettes daily for 25 years before he quit in 1980. McCain's current stress echocardiogram is normal at a high level of exercise.

_ Blood in the urine in 2001. Surgery reduced McCain's "very large" prostate and solved the problem.

_ Vertigo diagnosed in 2000 and 2001; his symptoms have diminished since then.

McCain takes an aspirin daily to prevent blood clots, Zyrtec as necessary for nasal allergies and Ambien when he's traveling if he needs help sleeping. He also takes a multiple vitamin. McCain told Eckstein in 2003 he gets five to six hours of sleep a night and walks and hikes for exercise.

More than 1,100 pages of records were released to a small pool of reporters in Arizona, who had three hours to review them and take notes. They weren't permitted to remove them or to make copies. The synopsis was released online and e-mailed to reporters. Doctors answered questions from reporters in a 50-minute conference call.

Eckstein also said the disclosure included "every piece of clinical information pertaining to Sen. McCain since 2000."

The records didn't include anything related to mental health. Eckstein said McCain "never complained of decreased memory in any shape or form, and I have not detected that in my dealings with Sen. McCain."

Indeed, the level of disclosure bordered on the embarrassing. Connolly at one point noted in her notes that McCain's "buttocks unremarkable except for some very light tan freckling."

McCain was concerned about the looks of the scar on the left side of his face from cancer surgery; he had follow-up surgery to try to make it smaller and slept with a facemask for a time. The doctors all commented on McCain's pleasant personality in their clinical notes; one surgeon, Dr. Michael Hinni, called McCain a "delightful gentleman."

McCain jokes about his age, most recently on "Saturday Night Live." During the primary campaign, when asked about it, he'd concede that he's "older than dirt" and would tell voters about his 96-year-old mother Roberta McCain's trip to France last year. Told that she was too old to rent a car, she bought one instead. Reporters and aides half McCain's age found his primary campaign schedule exhausting, yet the candidate seldom showed any ill effects.

Still, McCain aides know that his age could become an issue. They hope the release of his records and that keeping up a busy schedule will help quell it. They point to Ronald Reagan's experience in 1980 and say a good choice for a vice presidential nominee should help.

"In 1980, it was a bigger issue for Reagan than age has been for Sen. McCain so far in this election," Charlie Black, a McCain senior adviser, told reporters earlier this month. "Stop and think abut it. Twenty-eight years ago, 70 was perceived as older than 70 is today. ... The day that he picked George Bush to be vice president, the age issue pretty much went away. People looked at Bush and said, 'Hey, this guy could handle it,' and they quit worrying about Reagan's age."

ON THE WEB

A synopsis of McCain's medical records.

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