Doctor: Obama is in 'excellent health'

May 29, 2008 1:07:17 PM PDT
Barack Obama's doctor said Thursday the presidential candidate was in excellent health at the time of his last checkup 16 months ago, but he has a family history of cancer and a big, obvious risk - a smoking habit that he's trying, again, to break. In a one-page letter released by the campaign, Obama's longtime physician, Chicago internist Dr. David L. Scheiner, said he was summarizing 21 years of medical records, during which the Democrat suffered only minor problems such as upper respiratory infections.

But hanging over that positive assessment: Obama is a smoker who has quit but relapsed several times. Obama, 46, announced in February that he was quitting again with the aid of Nicorette gum. His doctor said only that Obama is using Nicorette "with success."

Smoking causes a list of dangerous effects, including heart disease, strokes and lung cancer - and it takes the body a long time to heal after someone quits for good. Government statistics show that 15 years after quitting, the risk of heart disease drops almost to that of a never-smoker; 10 years later, the risk of lung cancer drops by as much as half.

It wasn't clear when Scheiner had last seen Obama to verify the Nicorette use. But he said the senator's last official checkup in January 2007 found:

-Obama exercised regularly, often jogging three miles and had "no excess body fat." Actual weight wasn't disclosed.

-Excellent blood pressure, at 90 over 60. Optimal blood pressure is considered to be below 120 over 80.

-Very healthy cholesterol, with a total cholesterol of 173 (desirable is under 200); the so-called bad or LDL kind 96 (less than 100 is optimal); and the so-called good or HDL kind at 68 (desirable is over 60).

-No signs of problems on standard blood tests or a heart EKG. Scheiner noted that Obama's mother died of ovarian cancer and his maternal grandfather died of prostate cancer.

Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society said that family history isn't strong enough to be of concern; doctors worry if a father or uncle had prostate cancer.

But black men are at increased risk of prostate cancer overall, enough that doctors often begin prostate screening, called a PSA exam, in the 40s - even though, Brawley stressed, PSA screening hasn't actually been proven to save lives. Still, Obama's PSA last year registered a very low 0.6, meaning no sign of abnormalities.

Without worrisome symptoms today and if he's stopped smoking, "it would be very hard for medical science to predict he's going to have any disease even over the next 30 years," much less the next eight, Brawley said.

The sparse information stands in contrast to Republican candidate John McCain, 71, who last week released almost 2,000 pages of full medical records documenting eight years of his health - including successful treatment for melanoma - and his own doctors' conclusion that he was fit for the presidency.