- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2008

The long-awaited release of Sen. John McCain’s medical records show the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is a cancer-free 71-year-old with a strong heart and threw the health issue back into the court of his likely — and younger — opponent, Sen. Barack Obama.

The upshot of more than 1,100 pages of medical records stretching back to 2000, which reporters pored over for three hours yesterday in a hotel near the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., was that Mr. McCain has health issues commensurate with his age — small non-cancerous lesions, polyps in his colon, an enlarged prostate (which was surgically repaired) and kidney and bladder stones.

The four-term senator, seeking to become the oldest elected first-term president, did have blood in his urine in 2000, which prompted doctors at the world-famous clinic to remove “enlarged prostate tissue,” remedying the malady.

Senator McCain enjoys excellent health and displays extraordinary energy,” said Dr. John Eckstein, one of a team of Mayo physicians who attend to the senator. “And while it’s impossible to predict any person’s future health, I and my colleagues can find no medical reasons or problems that would preclude Senator McCain from fulfilling all the duties and obligations of the president of the United States.”

Dr. Eckstein, an internal medicine specialist, said “there is no concern about prostate cancer.”

By releasing extensive medical records — which, added to the 1,500 pages Mr. McCain released in 1999 during his first run for the presidency, reveal his medical history back to the 1970s — the certain Republican nominee hopes to put the age and health questions behind him. And by putting them out now, their contents will be old news by the time the campaign ramps up after Labor Day.

But the McCain campaign also kicked the issue over to Mr. Obama, the likely Democratic presidential nominee. The 46-year-old appears in excellent health — news cameras have captured him running up and down a basketball court and frolicking shirtless on a beach — but his campaign has not released his medical records.

When it does, Mr. Obama’s likely to face questions about the possible effects of his admitted use of cocaine and marijuana when he was younger. In 1999, George W. Bush’s medical records were heavily scrutinized after rumors circulated he had used cocaine, a charge he vehemently denied.

Dr. Connie Mariano, who headed up the White House medical unit from 1992 to 2001, said there could be numerous long-term effects from the use of cocaine and marijuana, such as “cardiovascular disease (accelerated).”

In addition, Mr. Obama, the child of a black father and white mother, may have inherited genes that put black men at risk for certain diseases. “African-American men also tend to develop prostate cancer earlier than Caucasian men and need to be screened earlier for it,” Dr. Mariano said.

The Obama camp yesterday indicated it would release a summary of the Illinois senator’s records next week.

In the McCain documents, the most serious health concerns were about the senator’s repeated bouts with skin cancer; he has had four precancerous lesions removed in three separate procedures — in 1993, 2000 and 2002. Most were surface growths, but one spot on his temple in 2000 was invasive cancer deemed “intermediate-stage” melanoma.

Mr. McCain underwent nearly six hours of a procedure to remove the dime-sized growth and lymph nodes in his neck. Later tests showed the cancer had not spread there. The surgery left a large scar on his left cheek, a subject doctors addressed yesterday in a summary of their health findings.

“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,” the doctors wrote.

Mr. McCain now undergoes an in-depth skin cancer check every few months because of a medical history his own dermatologist calls “remarkable” for its number of dangerous melanomas. But there has been no recurrence of the melanoma on his cheek, and doctors yesterday said there is very little chance it will return.

Mr. McCain, 5-foot-9 and weighing 139 pounds at his last physical in March, has had no measurable effects from smoking two packs of cigarettes a day for 25 years, a habit he gave up in 1980, when he was 43.

“He has no evidence of heart or other cardiovascular disease. He walked the Grand Canyon rim to rim in August 2006 without problems,” the doctors wrote in their summary.

Mr. McCain, portrayed in biographies as a hard-drinking Navy man in his youth, also limits his alcohol to about two drinks a month. During a media dinner with the senator in January, he had a single glass of white wine.

Mr. McCain takes medication to keep his cholesterol in check and just switched from the controversial Vytorin that made headlines this winter to a proven standby, simvastatin. The Vietnam veteran, who spent more than five years in a prison camp, has degenerative arthritis from war injuries that might mean a future joint replacement, his doctors said.

One other malady also emerged yesterday: Mr. McCain suffers from “positional vertigo,” which his doctors described as a dizziness for three to five seconds when he gets up suddenly.

For more than a year, Mr. McCain repeatedly promised to release his recent medical records but has not done so. The campaign decided to put out the documents yesterday, just as Americans embarked on the first three-day holiday weekend of the summer, but said the release had been in the works for weeks.

The document dump was unusual — a small group of hand-picked reporters was given three hours to view the documents in a conference room in the Copper Wynd Hotel, just off a restaurant called Alchemy, but they could not take the documents or make photocopies. Although the select members of the press were to see the documents at the same time, the campaign actually gave the Associated Press an advance look; stories appeared on the wires at 6 a.m. EDT, hours before the rest of the pool of reporters saw the documents.

Meanwhile, the McCain campaign also moved to nip another possible controversy in the bud, releasing summaries of Cindy McCain’s 2006 tax returns. The wife of Mr. McCain, who is the heiress of a large Arizona beer distributorship, made more than $6 million and paid more than $1.7 million in taxes.

McCain aides said that disclosing only the summary pages had precedent, pointing to tax information made public in 2003 by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, heiress to the Heinz ketchup fortune.

The campaign said she had received an extension on her 2007 tax returns and planned to make those public when they are filed.

McCAIN“S HEALTH

A review of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain’s medical records, spanning 2000 to May 2008, show:

His most recent complete physical was in March; his latest checkup was last week.

•Blood pressure was 134 over 84. Optimal is below 120 over 80, and high blood pressure begins at 140 over 90. An in-between reading is sometimes called prehypertension, but Mr. McCain’s doctor said other recent readings were lower and his blood pressure is normal.

•Total cholesterol is a healthy 192, below the worrisome 240 level. His so-called bad or LDL cholesterol is a healthy 123. But his so-called good or HDL cholesterol is 42, below the recommended 60.

•He weighs 163 pounds, and stands 5-foot-9.

•His BMI, or body mass index, was just under 24, which puts him at the upper end of normal; 25 or higher is overweight.

Cancer

•He has had four separate melanomas removed, in 1993, 2000 and 2002. Most were very early stage forms but one, a spot on his temple in 2000, was invasive cancer deemed “intermediate-stage” melanoma. He has had no sign of melanoma since 2002, but has his skin checked every three or four months. Doctors frequently remove precancerous lesions and in February removed a small, early squamous cell carcinoma, an easily surgically cured skin cancer.

•Doctors removed common benign growths called polyps during a routine colonoscopy in March. Doctors often screen patients with polyps more frequently, as they can be precancerous.

•In 2001, he had successful minimally invasive surgery to reduce an enlarged prostate, common in older men, and shows no sign of prostate cancer.

Medications, heart and vertigo

•His medications include simvastatin, part of the popular statin family of anti-cholesterol drugs; a baby aspirin, commonly prescribed starting in middle age to prevent heart attacks; Claritin, Zyrtec or Flonase as needed for seasonal allergies; the sleeping pill Ambien as needed during travel; and HCTZ, or hydrochlorothiazide, to prevent kidney stones.

Mr. McCain’s stress test showed no signs of blockages, and his ejection fraction, a measure of the heart’s pumping strength, was a very healthy 60 percent.

•He has suffered occasional bouts of dizziness, usually when standing suddenly, since 2000 that repeated tests concluded were harmless vertigo.

SOURCE: Associated Press