Current Weather
The Spy FM

What We Can Learn From Warren Buffett’s Prostate Cancer

Filed by KOSU News in Business.
April 18, 2012

Benjamin Davies, a urologic cancer specialist, doesn’t mince words.

On Twitter today, the good doctor said he would fire on the spot any medical resident who biopsied the prostate of an 81-year-old man.

And that would include Warren Buffett, the 81-year-old CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, who disclosed Tuesday that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

In a letter to shareholders, Buffett said a high reading on a PSA test, something his “doctors had regularly checked for many years,” was the red flag for a biopsy that found cancerous tissue. Subsequent CT, MRI and bone scans showed no cancer spread. He’ll start radiation treatment in July.

So why was Davies so upset? Well, the weight of medical evidence led the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to say years ago that men 75 and older shouldn’t have regular PSA tests. The harms of treating any cancer found outweigh the benefits, the USPSTF concluded.

Last year the influential group took things a step further, releasing a controversial draft policy against routine PSA testing for men of any age.

Davies is an assistant professor of urology at the University of Pittsburgh med school and director of its urologic oncology fellowship. He sees a lot of men with prostate cancer.

But he tells Shots he wouldn’t order a PSA for a man Buffett’s age. “As long as their PSAs have been normal all their lives, I’d stop at 75, and that’s me being conservative,” he said. “You could probably stop at 70.” The PSA test can triggers further testing, such as a biopsy, and treatment that may be unnecessary. “There’s no reason to check a PSA on an 81-year-old. It’s unseemly,” he says.

Davies isn’t privvy to the details of Buffett’s case, and the information released so far is incomplete. Buffett’s letter says his prostate cancer is Stage 1, or localized. His doctors told him the cancer isn’t “remotely life-threatening,” according to the letter. Generally speaking, Davies says, Stage 1 means “the chances of dying of the disease in the next 10 years is less than 1 percent.”

For men Buffett’s age, “a substantial number … may not need treatment” for a detected prostate cancer, Peter Carroll, chief of urology at University of California, San Francisco, told The Wall Street Journal Health Blog. Their doctors can watch tumors and intervene later, if needed. Most prostate cancers grow slowly.

Still, it’s possible that Buffett’s test results suggested a more aggressive cancer. When it comes to prostate cancer in men of all ages, Davies says, “The problem is that we don’t quickly treat the right people, and we overtreat most people.”

He says Buffett’s case may come to represent the past way of doing things. In the future, Davies says, doctors won’t be treating 81-year-olds for prostate cancer. There’s going to be less treatment period, he says, after new types of tests allow doctors to figure out who needs treatment early and who can be left alone. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

2PM to 3PM PRI's The World

PRI's The World

Get a fresh perspective of people, events and trends that shape our world. Host Lisa Mullins covers a wide range of topics, including science, business, technology, sports, art and music.

Listen Live Now!

3PM to 6PM All Things Considered

All Things Considered

For two hours every weekday, All Things Considered hosts Robert Siegel, Michele Norris and Melissa Block present the program's trademark mix of news, interviews, commentaries, reviews, and offbeat features.

View the program guide!

6PM to 6:30PM Marketplace

Marketplace

Hosted by Kai Ryssdal, award-winning Marketplace is public radio's daily magazine of business and economics.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center