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Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, shown with his wife Cindy in March, released his medical records Friday. ((Stephan Savoia/Associated Press))

Hoping to put to rest lingering questions about his health and his ability to handle the demands of being U.S. president, Republican party nominee-in-waiting John McCain released his medical records to a select group of journalists Friday.

A review of the records by the Associated Press shows the 71-year-old Arizona senator to be healthy for his age, despite having four cancerous melanomas removed from his head and arm since 1993.

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

In 2000, a lesion removed from his left temple was found to be a type of cancer at risk of spreading to other parts of his body, but frequent medical checks have given McCain a clean bill of health since the operation.

McCain remains at risk for developing new skin tumours, and gets a thorough examination by a Mayo Clinic dermatologist every few months.

"I do not see any worrisome lesions," Dr. Suzanne Connolly of the Mayo Clinic concluded after McCain's most recent exam, on May 12.

The details of McCain's health are contained in 1,173 pages of medical documents spanning 2000 to 2008 that his campaign made available to the Associated Press to make the case that he's healthy enough to serve as president, as well as to counter the notion that he's too old. McCain will turn 72 in August and would be the oldest elected president.

Among other medical issues outlined in the reports, McCain is praised for his cardiovascular fitness, described as "considerably younger physiologically" by a doctor after his performance on a heart stress test this year.

Recurring cancer concern

He also takes drugs for high cholesterol levels and occasionally has benign polyps removed from his colon.

Medical experts say the skin cancer is the issue of most concern to Americans who want a president who can carry out all of their White House duties.

McCain said his overall state of health and his family's robust medical history bode well but doctors say skin cancer is a worrisome form of the disease that frequently recurs.

"We don't have a crystal ball, but we have no way to say anything at the present time would preclude him from running for office," said Connolly, "[but] he's not cured."

Connolly said the signs are good that McCain won't have a recurrence because it's been eight years since his last melanoma was detected.

If he becomes U.S. president, doctors say that even closer attention would be paid to McCain's health with extra vigilance for skin lesions.

The report also looks into McCain's mental health and concludes that he suffers from no lasting psychological effects from his 5½ years in captivity as a prisoner of war in Vietnam in the late 1960s and '70s.

Under U.S. law, the executive authority of the presidency must be maintained at all times.  A president given general  anesthetic, or whose state of health requires invasive surgery, can transfer powers to the vice-president but concerns about medical fitness for the job are paramount, and sure to be raised by McCain's Democratic opponent in November's election.

CBC's Henry Champ said the report is good news for McCain.

"All in all, I would say at a minimum that is an 'A' grading," Champ said, "and most people will be content to accept that he is healthy for the job."

With files from the Associated Press