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Buffett is diagnosed with early-stage cancer of prostate at age 81

Billionaire Warren E. Buffett said Tuesday he has been diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer, but he tried to reassure his company's shareholders that the condition is "not remotely life-threatening."

The 81-year-old chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said in a letter to shareholders that the two-month radiation treatment he and his doctors plan to start in mid-July will restrict his travel but shouldn't otherwise affect his routine.

"I feel great -- as if I were in my normal excellent health," Buffett said. "And my energy level is 100 percent. 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."

Buffett, who is also chairman of The Buffalo News, said he was diagnosed last Wednesday and has received tests including a CAT scan, a bone scan and an MRI. He said the tests showed no indication of cancer elsewhere in his body.

Cancer experts say Buffett's diagnosis shouldn't be a major concern because it appears his doctors caught the disease early. Still, the news will remind Berkshire investors of Buffett's mortality.

"The chance of dying of prostate cancer for Mr. Buffett in the next 10 years is probably 2 or 3 percent, so the prognosis is great," said Dr. Ralph deVere White, director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, Davis.

Buffett is known for a no-nonsense approach to investing. He is one of the world's richest men and, in recent years, has become one of its most generous philanthropists.

Buffett told shareholders in February that Berkshire's board has chosen someone to succeed him as CEO someday, and he said there are two backup candidates. None of the three has been publicly identified.

Berkshire's insurance, railroad and utility businesses typically account for more than half of its net income. It also owns clothing, furniture, brick and jewelry firms and has major investments in such companies as American Express Co., IBM, Washington Post Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.

Although Buffett's investment success has made him a household name -- and made him a Wall Street oracle -- he still works in his hometown of Omaha and lives in a house he bought in 1958.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men -- more than 241,000 new cases are expected to be diagnosed in the United States this year. More than 90 percent are early-stage -- like Buffett's -- and nearly all men with such diagnoses survive at least five years.

Buffett's case is likely to renew controversy over PSA blood tests, developed during the 1970s at Buffalo's Roswell Park Cancer Institute. A leading government task force warns against them for men older than 75 because prostate cancer usually grows so slowly in older men that it rarely proves fatal. That means many men are treated and suffer side effects unnecessarily. The American Cancer Society says only men in good health with a life expectancy of at least 10 years should consider a PSA test.

"Mr. Buffett made a decision to get it, but that may not be the right decision for every man in that age group," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the cancer society's deputy chief medical officer.

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