What Warren Buffett Doesn’t Know About Medicine

Warren Buffet is a model of successful investment strategy, but we’d caution men not to follow his treatment strategy in response to a diagnosis of early-stage prostate cancer.

At age 81, Buffet has decided to undergo radiation treatment for stage-one (localized) cancer of the prostate gland. Because the disease detected at this stage is typically slow-growing —  most often so slow-growing that it never becomes harmful — doctors generally recommend “watchful waiting” instead of an immediate course of treatment or surgical removal.  In fact, because it is so uncommon for stage-one prostate cancer to develop into a serious health concern, most experts believe that it does not merit the significant complications, such as incontinence and impotence, that often result from treatment. This was the logic behind the 2011 recommendation by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which states that healthy men over 50 years of age should no longer routinely receive a PSA blood test to screen for prostate cancer: The task force’s review of decades-long clinical trials determined that screening without specific indication was much more likely to do harm than good.

More from the American Council on Science and Health.

Comments (5)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Stephen C. says:

    Obama Care will solve this problem. Remember the “death panels”?

  2. Bill Huber says:

    His choice as a 81 year old man to treat the cancer rather monitor it is a curious choice. Maybe my view is tainted because my 84 year old father caught MRSA in a hospital during a routine treatment for a fall but the risk of something going wrong for elderly patients seems pretty high. If it is uncommon for stage-one prostate cancer to develop into a serious health concern then I would try to minimize the treatment risk. The good news is that there is plenty of progress in treating prostrate cancer. If I had to be treated I would try and get more information about the ultrasound treatment in Britain since it sounds it is effective and does not have the side effects of radiation treatment.

  3. MarkH says:

    Well, the Ultrasound treatment may not be a panacea. It does have a impotence risk, it’s just much lower than TURP. And we need a lot more data on efficacy by stage.

    Either way I agree, this is a curious choice. Virtually all men will get prostate cancer if they live long enough, usually you die with it, rather than of it. For a man that spends a lot of time on risk-benefit analysis, this is a rare failure.

  4. Eric says:

    It is a strange decision, but we don’t know all the details of Buffett’s situation. Maybe he has a family history of aggressive prostate cancer? Or maybe the possibility of impotence/incontinence as a result of the treatment aren’t a particular concern to him (for whatever reason).

    It’s also strange that he was even given a PSA test in the first place, given all the evidence that even getting tested is not beneficial for older patients. Hopefully it was his choice and not the doctor persuading him.

    @Stephen C
    Are you referring to the 2009 Politifact Lie of the Year? I thought we were done with the death panel silliness.

  5. Brian says:

    Buffet needs to start a search for the cure fund.