By Stephen Smith and Susan Milligan, Globe Staff
In a highly choreographed effort to prove John McCain isn't too old or rundown to be president, his campaign today released eight years of medical records that show he is cancer-free and in good health for someone his age.
McCain, who turns 72 in August, would be the oldest person elected to a first term as president, has had three instances of skin cancer, and spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner-of-war during Vietnam.
He has elevated cholesterol, for which he takes medication, and a prior case of enlarged prostate, but the senator is in good cardiovascular shape and overall good health, said Dr. John D. Eckstein, an internal medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic Arizona where McCain has been treated.
"While it is impossible to predict any person's future health, today I can find no medical reason or problems that would preclude Senator McCain from fulfilling all the duties and obligations of President of the United States,'' Eckstein said.
The campaign posted an online summary of his medical status. It organized a conference call with McCain's doctors, and gave a selected group of reporters the chance to sit down and look through the records for three hours -- but not make photocopies.
On four separate occasions between 1993 and 2002, McCain was treated for a form of skin cancer called melanoma, which can prove lethal. But only once -- in 2000 -- was the growth especially worrisome.
That year, doctors found an invasive form of the cancer on the senator's lower left temple and operated aggressively, removing a substantial chunk of skin. Nearby lymph nodes were also excised as a preventive measure but upon examination, there was no evidence that the cancer had spread, McCain's doctors said.
None of the four swatches of melanoma was related, his physicians said in a conference call this afternoon with reporters.
"Each of the melanomas was a new, primary melanoma and did not represent a recurrence of any previous melanoma," said Eckstein. "There was, and there is, no evidence of return."
That is an encouraging sign, said skin cancer specialists not involved in McCain's treatment. Patients generally are considered cured if they remain free of cancer for five years or longer after the removal of a serious melanoma.
The greatest risk of the cancer returning or spreading happens within the first year or two after the original diagnosis, the specialists said.
"The first couple of years is the highest risk time," said Dr. Jeffrey E. Lee, medical director of the Melanoma & Skin Center at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. "Most patients who remain cancer-free for five years after a melanoma like this are cured, the overwhelming majority of patients."
A data base of skin cancer patients at M.D. Anderson pegs the chance of recurrence at less than 10 percent.
More recently, McCain has been treated for more common -- but vastly less dangerous -- forms of skin cancer, known as basal cell or squamous cell. Those cancers are generally regarded as being highly curable. Earlier this month, doctors removed such a growth from one of McCain's legs.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.