McCain's Age and Health, and the 2008 Election

Republican presidential hopeful John McCain is in good general health and is free of skin cancer, according to a report by The Associated Press that cites the candidate's medical records. McCain's campaign is releasing his medical records today; AP reporters were granted early access to the files.

The records show that McCain has a strong heart, performs well in his annual physical examinations and is checked for skin cancer every few months, the AP reports. The files include eight years of medical history.

One vital statistic that you don't need an M.D. to understand is McCain's age: The Arizona senator is 71, older than any newly elected president. So far, his age doesn't seem to be working against him.

McCain confronted the age question head-on last weekend — not on one of the somber Sunday morning talk shows but on Saturday Night Live.

"Good evening, my fellow Americans," he said. "I ask you, what should we be looking for in our next president? Certainly someone who is very, very, very old."

The senator's comedy act was well received, even though for many voters, age is no laughing matter. More than a year ago, pollster Andy Kohut and the Pew Research Center asked voters which characteristics might make them more or less likely to vote for a presidential candidate. Few people said they'd be less likely to vote for one who was black or a woman. But half the voters told Kohut they'd be less likely to vote for a candidate in his 70s.

"A candidate in their 70s registered one of the highest 'I'd be less likely to vote for' responses — almost as high as a Muslim or someone who's never held office or someone who doesn't believe in God," Kohut says. "So the initial reaction in general terms about an older person is people are pretty upfront and say they have some reservations about it."

But those reservations don't seem to rub off on McCain. Only about 1 in 4 voters says he is too old to be president. Kohut says that number climbs slightly to about 1 in 3 voters, but only when pollsters point out that McCain is 71.

"Which is another way of saying he doesn't look his age. Or he doesn't appear as old as he is," Kohut says.

On the campaign trail, McCain appears vigorous and energetic — although in recent months his schedule has been considerably less taxing than those of his Democratic opponents. Kohut recalls that Bob Dole's age wasn't initially seen as a big factor in 1996, when Dole turned 73. But it became more of a drag as the campaign wore on.

"Not only did people see Senator Dole as old, they began to associate him with old ideas," Kohut says.

Political satirists hope to attach the same stigma to McCain with a YouTube video that points out some of the inventions that weren't around when he was born, including Barbie dolls, credit cards, the CIA and Minute Rice.

McCain himself sometimes plays into ageist stereotypes, like when he said Thursday that he can still picture the lawmakers behind the Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930. But on most days, he seems hipper than your average 71-year-old, joking about popular TV shows and appearing regularly with Jon Stewart. McCain can also point to his mother, who sometimes campaigns with him. Roberta McCain is still spunky and vivacious at 96.

McCain has already lived longer than either his father or grandfather. On Inauguration Day, he would be 2 1/2 years older than Ronald Reagan when he took the oath of office. Reagan, of course, went on to serve two full terms, after putting the age question to rest in a 1984 debate.

"I will not make age an issue of this campaign," he said. "I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."

Speaking of youth, Kohut's research found most voters no less likely to vote for a presidential candidate in his 40s, like Barack Obama.

Understanding Melanoma

Sen. John McCain has had several episodes of melanoma. Although melanomas are relatively rare, the Arizona Republican is far from alone in this diagnosis. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 62,000 new melanomas will be diagnosed in the United States this year. Here are some of the key things to know about the cancer.

Q: What is melanoma?

Melanoma is the most lethal type of skin cancer. It begins in the melanocytes, the cells in skin that manufacture the pigment melanin. Because of this, melanomas are often brown or black, but can be colorless. The tumors can occur anywhere on the skin. In many instances, the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color or texture of a mole. Melanoma may also appear as a new mole.

Q: What are the risk factors for melanoma?

The National Cancer Institute says risk factors include:

* Unusual moles

* Exposure to natural sunlight or ultraviolet (tanning bed) light

* Family or personal history of melanoma

* Fair skin, blond or red hair, or blue eyes

Q: How is melanoma diagnosed?

A doctor visually checks the skin. If worrisome moles are present, the doctor cuts out all or part of the suspicious mole or lesion, which is called a biopsy. The removed tissue is sent to a pathologist, who analyzes it to check for cancer cells. This surgery may leave a scar.

When a biopsy reveals melanoma, the next step is "staging" the cancer to determine how large the tumor is and whether the cancer has spread. There are four main stages of melanoma — stages 3 and 4 are most serious because they indicate that the cancer has spread either to lymph nodes or other organs. Body imaging tests, including X-ray, CT scan and MRI, are often used to help determine the stage of melanoma.

Q: How is melanoma treated?

After a biopsy confirms melanoma, the most common treatment is to remove the entire tumor by surgery. Thicker melanomas require that larger pieces of tissue be removed.

Surgery can be combined with other therapies if the cancer has spread to other organs or reappears again in the same place or a different place. The most common treatment options include chemotherapy (using drugs to kill cancer cells), immunotherapy (using drugs to boost the patient's own immune system) and radiation therapy (using high-energy rays or particles to kill cancer cells). If melanoma has spread to other tissues, surgery usually can't cure the cancer.

Research and clinical trials are ongoing to find more effective treatments for melanoma.

Q: Is melanoma deadly?

It can be cured if diagnosed and removed early. Melanoma is an aggressive and fast-growing cancer, and if it is not removed early, cancer cells might grow downward from skin into healthy tissue. Once the cancer spreads, it can be difficult to control.

The chance of recovery depends on the stage at which the cancer is detected, the location and size of the tumor, whether there was bleeding or broken skin on the original tumor, and the patient's general health.

If melanoma is caught before it spreads, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent. If it has spread only to the lymph nodes, the rate ranges from 27 percent to 68 percent, and if the cancer has spread to other organs, the five-year survival rate is 18 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

Even with successful recovery, some patients have a recurrence of melanoma. More than 8,000 Americans are expected to die from melanoma this year.

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