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New Questions Over McCain's Health, Times Reports

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UPDATE: The New York Times piece is now online. Reporter Lawrence Altman, a medical doctor himself, finds that "serious gaps remain in the public's knowledge about the health of the presidential and vice-presidential nominees," which is "a striking departure from recent campaigns, in which many candidates and their doctors were more forthcoming."

Of McCain, the Times reports:

If elected, Senator John McCain of Arizona, 72, the Republican nominee, would be the oldest man to be sworn in to a first term as president and the first cancer survivor to win the office. The scars on his puffy left cheek are cosmetic reminders of the extensive surgery he underwent in 2000 to remove a malignant melanoma.

Last May, his campaign and his doctors released nearly 1,200 pages of medical information, far more than the three other nominees. But the documents were released in a restricted way that leaves questions, even confusion, about his cancer.

A critical question concerns inconsistencies in medical opinions about the severity of his melanoma; if the classification of his melanoma is more severe, it would increase the statistical likelihood of death from a recurrence of the cancer. [...]

By not allowing reporters to interview him or his doctors extensively about his entire medical history, he has made it impossible to get a complete picture of his diagnoses and treatment.

Both Barack Obama and Joe Biden released recent medical records to the Times showing that they were healthy, though Altman notes that Biden's documents "did not indicate whether he had had a test in recent years to detect any new aneurysm," and Obama's most recent check-up was in January 2007.

Meanwhile, "Nothing is known publicly about Ms. Palin's medical history," Altman reports, "aside from the much-discussed circumstances surrounding the birth of her fifth child last April. Ms. Palin has said that her water broke while she was at a conference in Dallas and that she flew to Anchorage, where she gave birth to her son Trig hours after landing.

"Last week Maria Comella, a spokeswoman for Ms. Palin, said the governor declined to be interviewed or provide any health records."

Read the comprehensive Times story here.

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ORIGINAL STORY:

The New York Times will break new ground on the health of the presidential candidates and their running mates in a major expose set to be published in Monday's print edition.

Lawrence Altman -- the veteran Times reporter, George Polk Award winner, and one of the few medical doctors working as a full-time journalist -- has spent weeks working with the campaigns and medical professionals on the piece, sources say.

Much of the speculation centers on new questions about the status of John McCain's cancer raised by the story. The Washington Post reported last week that a growing number of doctors believe that McCain's melanoma is "more advanced than his physicians concluded and that the chance of recurrence is consequently higher."

But another peculiar facet of the Times story involves the McCain campaign's refusal, as of this weekend, to turn over Sarah Palin's medical information.

Both Barack Obama and Joe Biden reportedly provided documentation to the Times.

The issues of John McCain's age and health have repeatedly been pushed, with much resistance, into the heart of the political discussion. Prompted in part by the selection of Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee, the topic crested with the release of a political advertisement by Brave New Films PAC calling attention to McCain's history of skin cancer and the need for more information about his medical records.

McCain's campaign says it has released all of the information needed to make a thorough assessment of his health, and then some. In late May, the Senator allowed the vetting of over 1,000 pages of his records that showed him in generally good condition despite having skin cancer eight years ago. But the process was far from transparent.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's medical correspondent who was one of only a handful of reporters allowed into the review, summarized the problems recently to the Huffington Post:

"We were given three hours to go over 1,200 pages of records. That is a lot to go through. It was very sort of cloak and dagger and I'm sure they had their reasons. Given that I had my medical training, I was able to hone in on what it thought was important more quickly. But the pages weren't numbered, so I had no way of knowing what was missing... As a reporter I can only comment on what I saw but I can't say by any means that this was complete... As far as the secretiveness of it, what they said to us is that you can't take anything out of the room, but you could make notes. So it was a lot to go through in a short period of time."

The Washington Post reported last week that McCain's campaign refused to turn over additional documents for its story.

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