Republican presidential candidate John McCain suffered a dangerous skin cancer six years ago but was declared cured, according to medical records released yesterday that pronounce him in "good physical and mental health."
A cancerous mole removed from his shoulder in December 1993 was small and did not spread or deeply invade his skin. The records show no sign of recurrence.
As a prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain suffered severe wounds and was left with degenerative arthritis in his shoulders and right knee, which could eventually require joint replacement, his physicians said. Otherwise, "I found you to be in excellent health," wrote McCain's personal physician, John Eckstein, who has conducted annual exams for the Arizona senator since 1992.
Current and contemporaneous notes by medical personnel conclude that 5 1/2 years of imprisonment did not leave McCain with any psychological wounds. Hundreds of documents were shown to the Associated Press.
"He had a very healthy way of dealing with his experiences," Michael Ambrose, director of the Robert E. Mitchell Center for Prisoner of War Studies, said in a telephone interview. After his release in 1973, McCain took a battery of physical and mental tests at the center over a 20-year period. "There was never any mental illness," Ambrose said.
The campaign plans to release the records Monday, with small sections of his psychological reports withheld because they were deemed personal and irrelevant to McCain's physical and mental health. The redacted material, made available to the news service, summarizes McCain's concerns about his family, as well as a worry that imprisonment cost him 5 1/2 years of his life. No material in the redacted sections raises questions about his mental fitness.
In December 1993, McCain had a cancerous mole removed from his shoulder that proved to be melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. "We think he is cured," Eckstein said.
Ambrose said the type of cancer McCain suffered is usually caused by sun exposure from years ago. He said McCain and his fellow prisoners were kept in the Vietnamese sun for long periods of time, though it is impossible to link the cancer to his POW experience.
McCain's war injuries, most of which he suffered after ejecting from his aircraft, left his shoulders and right knee badly damaged. He has degenerative arthritis in those joints, which will continue to deteriorate and may lead to a shoulder replacement or a knee replacement, Eckstein said.
The material consistently gives McCain a clean bill of mental health.
"Patient's mental status has not been influenced by recent situational stress," reads a summary written several days after his release. "There is no sign of emotional difficulty," says another summary three years later.
Asked during a 1973 exam how he coped with the POW trauma, McCain said, "Faith in country, USN, family and God." USN refers to the U.S. Navy, in which McCain served as a pilot.
His IQ was tested at least twice, scoring 128 and 133, both above-average ratings.
The records suggest a normal temper, though critics call McCain volatile. One of the examiners wrote that McCain learned in prison "to control his temper better, to not become angry over insignificant things." He was described several times as having a "histrionic pattern of personality adjustment," which Ambrose defined as an outgoing personality.
Eckstein said he has never prescribed pain medication to McCain and said his patient occasionally takes an over-the-counter Tylenol. "Senator McCain has a very high pain threshold," he said.
Eckstein's medical reports list McCain in overall good health, with good cholesterol and blood pressure numbers. His prostate is slightly enlarged, typical for a man in his sixties. He has seasonal hay fever, for which he uses a nasal spray.
His only continual medications are daily aspirin therapy, commonly prescribed once men reach their fifties or sixties to prevent heart attacks, and the antioxidant vitamins C and E.
A colonoscopy in 1995 found a few small, benign polyps, again typical for his age. A repeat in 1997 was normal.
In 1980, doctors reported that McCain had a "herpetic lesion" on his genitals. The lesion was not tested to see if it was the herpes virus, and it healed without treatment. Ambrose said the adjective "herpetic" is a medical term describing any blister-like lesion.
The documents are in three binders, each more than three inches thick. Included in the volumes are assessments by his commanders in the POW camps, all giving McCain high praise. Eckstein and Ambrose each provided summaries. "We judged him to be in good physical and mental health," Ambrose wrote.