McCain's Medical Records Indicate He Is Cancer-Free, Generally Healthy

Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 24, 2008; Page A03

FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz., May 23 -- As he sought the presidency twice over the last decade, Sen. John McCain has been the object of unusually aggressive medical care by a large team of doctors, who on Friday released thousands of pages of records that document he has been cancer-free for almost eight years.

The extraordinary release of what the campaign described as "every single piece of paper" in McCain's medical records for the last eight years is an attempt to confront concerns about the 71-year-old Arizona senator's fitness to serve as president and questions about his age. He would be the oldest president ever elected to a first term.

"Senator McCain wanted to be very transparent," said Nick Muzin, a Washington doctor who is serving as a medical adviser to the campaign. "He wanted to dispel any notions that he is in any way unfit to be president. There are no surprises in the medical records."

The campaign also made available three of McCain's doctors at Mayo Clinic Scottsdale, the Arizona campus of the famous hospital with its headquarters in Rochester, Minn.

The records detail the five-hour operation in August 2000 to remove the most severe of McCain's four cases of melanoma, efforts to reduce the facial puffiness the surgery produced, and the strategy of dermatological hypervigilance that followed.

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that is rapidly fatal if it spreads to distant organs, such as the lungs and brain. Physicians now examine the senator's skin every three or four months. He has had more than a dozen patches of abnormal skin cut out or chemically destroyed this decade.

McCain's doctors have also paid meticulous attention to complaints unrelated to his skin. He has been treated for kidney and bladder stones, undergone surgery for an enlarged prostate and been evaluated several times for dizziness originating in the inner ear. He has also had four colonoscopies, two exercise stress tests and innumerable CAT scans and blood analyses.

The records, numbered at 1,173 pieces of paper by a McCain campaign official, shed light on why the 2000 surgery was more extensive than what is normally done for melanoma that has not spread beyond the deepest layers of skin.

In a meeting attended by McCain, his wife, Cindy, and an unidentified "physician friend," Mayo Clinic ear, nose and throat surgeon Michael L. Hinni described how he was going to remove a large oval piece of tissue from the left side of the senator's face. He told them "it seems feasible to use this incision to remove all of the lymph nodes in his neck that are at risk, as he is going to incur the morbidity [damage] of the incision" anyway.

A "sentinel" lymph node -- located by injecting the melanoma with blue dye before surgery -- proved to be cancer-free. Nevertheless, a total of 38 lymph nodes, along with a portion of the parotid salivary gland, were removed.

The large opening in McCain's face was filled with a flap of skin that was cut from behind his ear.

The records suggest that McCain was concerned about his appearance after the surgery, complaining several times the scar was "thick" and visible and that his face appeared swollen. He underwent a minor operation to minimize the scar and later wore a face mask designed to put pressure on the scar to help it heal.

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