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Warren Buffett Has Early Stage Prostate Cancer

WEDNESDAY, April 18 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. billionaire investor Warren Buffett says he has prostate cancer and will undergo radiation treatment in the coming months.

The 81-year-old chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said in a letter to investors on Tuesday that he has stage 1 cancer, an early form of the disease that is treatable.

"The good news is that I've been told by my doctors that my condition is not remotely life- threatening or even debilitating in any meaningful way," Buffett said.

After receiving the diagnosis last Wednesday, Buffett said he had other tests that "showed no incidence of cancer elsewhere in my body."

In his letter, Buffett said he expects to begin two months of daily radiation treatment in mid-July. It will restrict his travel, "but will not otherwise change my daily routine."

He added that, "I discovered the cancer because my PSA level [an indicator my doctors had regularly checked for many years] recently jumped beyond its normal elevation and a biopsy seemed warranted."

Experts noted that prostate cancer that is caught at stage 1, when it is localized to the prostate, is highly curable. According to the American Cancer Society, four of five prostate cancers are caught at stages 1 or 2, and the overall 10-year survival rate for men diagnosed with prostate cancer is 98 percent. About 242,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the United States each year, and about 28,000 die from the disease annually.

"Many patients can be cured if their prostate cancer has not spread," the U.S. National Cancer Institute noted on its website, and even "some patients whose cancer has not spread very much outside the prostate gland can also be cured."

Typical treatments include surgical removal of the tumor, hormone-depletion therapy (male hormones are thought to act as "fuel" for prostate tumors) and radiation treatments.

If the tumor is deemed to be slow-growing, based on changes in levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), doctors often advise forgoing treatment and doing "watchful waiting" instead.

One expert said that, given his age, Buffett's diagnosis is not surprising. "Most men will eventually present with prostate cancer," noted Dr. Louis Kavoussi, chairman of urology at North Shore-LIJ Health System, The Arthur Smith Institute for Urology in Lake Success, N.Y. He added that, "the vast majority of men don't succumb to the disease even without treatment."

And while there's not enough information available for Kavoussi to accurately assess Buffett's prognosis, the "statistics are definitely on his side," he said.

Another urologist said each patient must weigh the pros and cons of treatment options.

"Some men have greater fear of the disease, while others are more fearful of the complications of treatment," explained Dr. Herbert Lepor, chairman of urology at NYU Langone Medical Center and a professor of urology at NYU School of Medicine in New York City. "Therefore, a very healthy 81-year-old man with an intermediate or highly aggressive prostate cancer is likely to live long enough to develop significant complications from their cancer and succumb to the disease. If the goal is to avoid the consequences of the [progression of] prostate cancer in this setting, curative treatment with surgery or radiation is reasonable, providing the complications of treatment are clearly delineated."

In his letter to investors, Buffett noted that his condition at the present time is good. "I feel great -- as if I were in my normal excellent health -- and my energy level is 100 percent," he said.

More information

For more on prostate cancer, go to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

-- E.J. Mundell

SOURCES: Warren Buffett, letter to Berkshire Hathaway Inc., investors, April 17, 2012; Herbert Lepor, M.D., chairman, urology, NYU Langone Medical Center, and The Martin Spatz Professor of Urology, NYU School of Medicine, New York City; Louis Kavoussi, M.D., chairman, urology, North Shore-LIJ Health System, The Arthur Smith Institute for Urology in Lake Success, N.Y.

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