Saturday, April 21, 2012

Warren Buffett's prostate cancer disclosure and treatment

Since Warren Buffett's recent disclosure of prostate cancer has made a lot of headlines, I thought I'd share some commentary on it today.

My thoughts as an outside observer:

It seems that he has T1c or prostate cancer detected by PSA testing alone.  Since we don't know his PSA history, Gleason score (a number that tells us how aggressive the prostate cancer cells are), or number of cores positive in his biopsy, it's difficult to know exactly how much disease he has in the gland or how risky it is.  Warren Buffett's treatment with 2 months of external beam radiation therapy is a mainstream option for someone electing to be treated for this disease.

It is controversial in the medical community as to whether nor not a man of his age (81 years) should have been screened in the first place.  Since Mr. Buffett seems to be a man in excellent health with a likely expected longevity of 5-10 years, such screening may have been reasonable.  In my opinion, a chronologic cut off for who should and shouldn't be screened seems overly simplistic.  There are many factors aside from age such as anticipated longevity, family history, and race that also need to be taken into account.  Therefore, I encourage men to have an individualized discussion with their doctors regarding the risks and benefits of prostate cancer screening. 

Mr. Buffett's prognosis is excellent.  Since we don't have his cancer specifics, we can rely on general prostate cancer survivorship data.  From the American Cancer Society, his 5 year relative survival rate is nearly 100%, his 10 year relative survival rate is 98%, and his 15 year relative survival rate is 91%.  Plenty of time for him to work out a succession plan for Berkshire Hathaway.

American Cancer Society survivorship page for prostate cancer

Best of luck to Warren Buffet and his family as he embarks on his treatment.

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