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Why Warren Buffett Revealed He Has Prostate Cancer

Why Warren Buffett Revealed He Has Prostate Cancer
Photograph by Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Despite his folksy manner, Warren Buffett is not a man who likes to share intimate details of his life. So that makes his April 17 announcement that he has early-stage prostate cancer all the more intriguing. After all, as the chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway stated, his doctors say the condition is “not remotely life-threatening or even debilitating in any meaningful way.” In fact, he stressed in the release, “I feel great—as if I were in my normal excellent health—and my energy level is 100 percent.” He has a point: By the age of 80, about 80 percent of men have some cancer cells in their prostate gland, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. If Buffett is like most men his age, he’s more likely to die with prostate cancer than from it.

So why bother? The answer, most likely, is to quash rumors that something more serious is going on. His disclosure is less an acknowledgement of his mortality than of his celebrity. As an investor whose every move is analyzed by people around the planet, the likelihood that Buffett could undergo two months of radiation therapy without anyone noticing is remote, if not impossible. Moreover, at 81, his mortality and succession planning—or lack thereof—is already the subject of much speculation. Any hint that he’s not thriving on a steady diet of steak and Cherry Coke could send Berkshire Hathaway stock plunging if the company’s iconic founder seems at all coy about his health. “It’s not a matter of his illness, it’s his age,” says Charles Elson, a corporate governance expert at the University of Delaware. Like a starlet caught touching her tummy near a fertility clinic, Buffett knows all too well that he needs to control the message before rumors put him on the defensive.