Doctors Say McCain's Skin Cancer Unlikely to Return

The presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, releases his health records Friday. McCain has dealt with melanoma in the past and has some orthopedic problems from his years as a prisoner of war. He hasn't released his health records since 1999.

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Today, Senator John McCain released his health records, covering the last eight years. The senator has a history of melanoma. That form of skin cancer can be serious if it's caught late. And there's been much talk about McCain's age - 71. If he wins, he would be the oldest U.S. president to start a first term.

NPR's Joanne Silberner is in Scottsdale, Arizona for the release of these records - more than a thousand pages. She's one of the handful of reporters who got to see them.

Welcome, Joanne.

JOANNE SILBERNER: Welcome to you, too, Noah.

ADAMS: Earlier this month, Senator McCain told reporters there would be no surprises in those medical records - more than a thousand pages. Were there any - were you able to see something that looked a little bit brand new to you?

SILBERNER: Well, there were things that haven't been talked about much, if at all, that he has diverticulosis, that he has a prostate problem common to aging and he has a history kidney stones, he's got bladder stones and cysts. All these things, you know, happen and they can be dealt with. He had a recent colonoscopy with six polyps removed. He's basically been getting very attentive medical care. He's almost a poster child for finding things early when they can be treated.

ADAMS: Now, to talk about the melanoma for a minute, could that cause him problems in the future? How serious has it been?

SILBERNER: Well, each of the four melanomas that have been removed surgically were (unintelligible) they were new. There weren't ones that had spread to another. Because once melanoma starts to spread, you're in pretty big trouble. And that's the message dermatologists are trying to get out, that if you've got a new skin growth that looks a little odd, get it taken care of. You can get it taken care of, it's gone, and you're okay. He hasn't had one since 2002. His doctors were asked about his prognosis for another one. Said it's in the single digits, percentage-wise. It's pretty much unlikely.

ADAMS: The surgery back then seemed pretty invasive though; it was quite serious.

SILBERNER: You know, one of them was, the one, and that's when you see pictures of him, when you see him, the left side of his face is puffy. They had to remove some of the tissue outside of the muscle that keeps the muscle from bulging out. That bulge you see on the left side, he's got a scar down the back of his neck. What they did is they removed 34 lymph nodes. They were actually fairly aggressive about it. They where worried that that melanoma has spread. They looked - the first place it spreads is to the lymph nodes. So they looked in the nearby lymph nodes and found nothing.

ADAMS: So after this news conference with the doctors, a summary on the Web site for John McCain and the material you've got to see so far, do you think all the records indeed are out there now?

SILBERNER: Well, (unintelligible) president. No. There's just been enormous amount of obfuscation in political health histories. FDA, FDR rather, had polio and nobody knew it. I mean, he was never seen in a wheelchair. John Kennedy had a whole slew of problems that didn't come out until after he died.

When Paul Tsongas ran for president, his doctors were asked if he - he had had a history of cancer and if there were any problems, they said no. And he died January of the month he would be inaugurated if he had run and win. So there's a lot of things that don't get told.

On the other hand, the extensiveness of these records argue in favor of everything or almost everything being out there. The doctors were asked about this today; they said everything is out there, after saying that the senator had asked them to put it out.

The campaign said everything is out there, so unless something else comes up, we're going to have to assume that everything is out there.

ADAMS: Now, we haven't seen a course any medical records from Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama on the Democratic side. They're younger than McCain. But still, why is McCain releasing these records on his own, do you think?

SILBERNER: Yeah, this is a precedent, to release this amount of medical data. He did it back in 1999, when he was first running for president. There was a whisper campaign back then. Because you know, as a prisoner of war for five and a half years he had a lot of things happen to him, physically and also mentally. And they were - there was this whisper campaign that he had left over problems, you know, psychological problem.

And most of the 1999 information, or a lot of it, was about his mental health and back then, the people who had seen him (unintelligible) said that he was fine. And this time around the campaign says he, you know, basically he wants to prove that he's able to serve.

ADAMS: Now, this release comes the Friday before Memorial Day. Only a few reporters are there getting to see all the records, his campaign trying to keep this relatively subdued, this release of the information, do you think?

SILBERNER: Well, you know, there's a lot of grumbling among the reporters there because everyone feels that the public doesn't pay much attention to news over a holiday weekend, and everybody is working hard to go through these 1200 pages of records in three hours, and thinking, well, who's going to see this. The record has been promised for a long time, and last year they were promised in April, and now they're coming out right now.

But both the campaign and his doctors at the Mayo Clinic say it was a matter of they knew he was going to be having appointments in May, they wanted to get that information out. They needed to get the doctors and the campaign together, so that's was it.

ADAMS: NPR's Joanne Silberner talking with us from Scottsdale, Arizona. Thank you, Joanne.

SILBERNER: Thank you, Noah.

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McCain Cancer-Free and Healthy, Records Show

Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain i i

hide captionPresumptive Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain in Union City, Calif., on Thursday.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain

Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain in Union City, Calif., on Thursday.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

McCain's Health Records

Sen. John McCain appears to be in overall good health, despite some close calls over the past eight years, his medical records show.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has had no recurrence of melanoma, a form of skin cancer. McCain has had four melanomas removed since 1993, the most recent in 2002.

Those medical details are contained in 1,173 pages of documents that the McCain campaign put on display for three hours Friday for a group of reporters at a Scottsdale, Ariz., resort.

"At the present time, Senator McCain enjoys excellent health and displays extraordinary energy," Dr. John Eckstein, McCain's primary physician at the Mayo Clinic Scottsdale, told reporters in a teleconference.

"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.

Dr. Suzanne M. Connelly, a Mayo Clinic dermatologist, told reporters that McCain's risk for developing a new melanoma is less than 10 percent, though she declined to put a specific number on the risk. Over the years, McCain has had numerous other less-serious skin cancers and growths removed.

Eckstein noted that it's been eight years since McCain's major bout with melanoma on his left temple. As time goes on without a return of disease, the odds of recurrence diminish even more, he said.

As for the puffy appearance of McCain's left jaw, Dr. Michael Hinni of Mayo said that it did not signal a return of melanoma, but rather was the remnant of the extensive operation to remove the melanoma in 2000. "To be clear, the swelling is not due to any evidence of cancer," he said.

The puffiness is the result of the removal of soft tissues surrounding the tumor in front of the left ear. "That makes the masseter, the chewing muscle, over the jaw appear more prominent," Hinni said.

The 2000 tumor was the most significant of McCain's four melanomas. It was 2 centimeters in size and 2.2 millimeters thick. Its removal left a wound that was 6 centimeters by 6 centimeters, Hinni told reporters.

Surgeons typically try to remove enough tissue around a tumor so that all parts of the cancer are excised.

The operation also involved the removal of the parotid salivary gland and 33 lymph nodes in the senator's neck. No evidence of cancer was found in the lymph nodes, according to the Mayo physicians.

The 2002 melanoma was very small and at a very early stage, Eckstein said. It was located on the left nasal sidewall.

The records shown to NPR and other media revealed that since 2000, the senator has had kidney and bladder stones, causing pain and blood in his urine. The bladder stones were removed and the kidney stones present no ongoing problems, according to McCain's doctors.

In 2001, McCain underwent surgery for an enlarged prostate, a very common condition in men his age. The treatment was routine.

During a colonoscopy two months ago, McCain had six small polyps removed. All were benign.

The Arizona senator has complained to his doctors on numerous occasions about dizziness and was ultimately diagnosed with vertigo, which is not thought to be related to anything serious.

Heart stress tests performed over the past eight years have shown no abnormalities and have changed little, showing that McCain is in good physical condition.

There was nothing in the records regarding mental health. When McCain last released his medical records during a 1999 bid for the presidency, documents showed that his doctors had concluded that his years in prison during the Vietnam War had not had a lasting psychological effect.

In response to a reporter's question, Eckstein said there was no evidence of memory loss in the senator, though the records did not appear to contain any indication that McCain had undergone mental status or cognitive testing.

McCain is taking several medications considered normal for a 71-year-old man. These include a cholesterol medication (simvastatin), a baby aspirin to prevent heart disease, a diuretic to prevent kidney stones from returning and medications for occasional nasal allergies.

McCain also uses a sleeping medication (Ambien CR) when he needs it, along with melatonin to fight jet lag. He takes a multivitamin each day.

The McCain campaign restricted access to the documents to selected news organizations. NPR's Joanne Silberner was one of the reporters allowed to review the documents.

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