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Doctors clear McCain for duty

John McCain is in good health despite a 15-year history of skin cancers, including a minor case as recently as February, and bouts with precancerous polyps in his colon, cysts in his kidney and stones in his bladder, his doctors said Friday.

McCain, 71, takes medications for elevated cholesterol and prevention of kidney stones, as well as an occasional pill to help him sleep, a panel of doctors said during a 45-minute news conference. The presumed Republican presidential nominee also suffers minor bouts of vertigo when he abruptly rises from a chair, though the condition is not an indication of any heart condition or precursor to a stroke, the doctors said.

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Despite his maladies, the senator from Arizona has extraordinary energy, even walking the Grand Canyon from one rim to the other two years ago, the doctors said.

"While it is impossible to predict any person's future health, today I can find no medical reason or problems that would preclude Sen. McCain from fulfilling all the duties and obligations of president of the United States," said Dr. John D. Eckstein, a Mayo Clinic physician who has treated him for 16 years.

The most serious health issue McCain has faced was the removal of a cancerous melanoma from his left temple, which left a scar nearly 2 inches in diameter and necessitated the removal of underlying lymph nodes. But no cancer has recurred there, and the probability of such a recurrence is less than 10%, his doctors said.

Eckstein added that there was no reason to think that McCain's age alone would be an impediment if he were elected president and that there was no evidence he has suffered any memory loss.

A panel of four doctors released summaries of McCain's medical records Friday in what the campaign said was an unprecedented level of disclosure for a presidential candidate. Questions about McCain's health and age have come up repeatedly on the campaign trail. If elected, McCain at 72 would be the oldest first-term president; if he served two terms, he would leave office an octogenarian.

Health questions increasingly have dogged McCain, who last week made fun of his age in an appearance on "Saturday Night Live" and has been attempting to portray an image of fitness and vigor as he stumps across the nation. By addressing the health issue on the eve of a long holiday weekend, McCain's campaign staff said privately, they hoped to get past it and to turn public attention elsewhere as the campaign progresses.

National polls have shown that a majority of the public does not consider McCain's age a problem. But a significant minority is concerned about it, and that alone could be important in a close general election.

McCain has been promising for a year to make his healthcare records public. The campaign controlled the long-delayed event by hand-picking a group of reporters -- from the Washington Post, the Arizona Republic, three news services and the major television networks -- who were allowed to examine the 1,173 pages of documents for three hours at a resort here in Fountain Hills, near the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. A summary was provided to other news organizations, but copies of the documents were not made available.

The news conference, in which the doctors spoke by telephone, was scheduled to last 90 minutes but was ended in half the time. Campaign spokesman Brian Rogers said that was because "there weren't any real questions left."

"This release is an unprecedented disclosure of primary sourced medical information about a presidential candidate," said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds.

Bill Clinton released few or no medical records during his presidential campaigns, according to Stephen Hess, a presidential historian at the Brookings Institution. During Clinton's reelection run in 1996, his rival, Bob Dole, released voluminous documents to ease concerns about his age.

But McCain critics said Friday's release of information would not put the public's mind at ease.

"The last thing the Democrats will do is attack McCain on his health," said Samuel Popkin, a UC San Diego political science professor. "You just have to leave it for people to think about. It could worry the public anyway."

McCain has had four malignant melanomas removed, as well as other skin cancers. The most serious was the invasive melanoma from his left temple. It was diagnosed in August 2000, after McCain had not returned to the Mayo Clinic for about 27 months.

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The five-hour surgery left a depression that has exaggerated the jaw muscle, leaving what looks like a lump on his face. And the scar, according to the summary released Friday, has caused him discomfort and concern about his looks. He underwent a procedure in 2001 and for a time wore a face-mask at night to reduce the scarring.

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ralph.vartabedian@ latimes.com

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Reston reported from Arizona and Vartabedian from Los Angeles.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Bill of health: an overview

Highlights of Republican presidential candidate John McCain's medical records, spanning 2000 until this month:

Blood pressure: A healthy 134 over 84. (Optimal is below 120 over 80, and high blood pressure begins at 140 over 90.)

Cholesterol: 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.

Weight: 163 pounds, healthy for his height of 5-foot-9 1/2.

Skin cancer: He has had four separate melanomas, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, removed -- in 1993, 2000 and 2002. Three were very early-stage forms, but one, a spot on his temple removed in 2000, was invasive cancer deemed "intermediate-stage" melanoma. He has had no sign of melanoma since 2002. Doctors frequently remove precancerous lesions and in February removed a small, early squamous cell carcinoma, an easily surgically cured skin cancer.

Colon: Doctors removed common benign growths called polyps during a routine colonoscopy in March.

Vertigo: Since 2000 he has suffered occasional bouts of dizziness, usually when standing suddenly, that repeated tests concluded were harmless vertigo.

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

Medications: 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.

Cardiovascular system: 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%.

Other: He has had instances of kidney and bladder stones.

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Source: Associated Press

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