The C-Suite’s Savvy Cancer-Fighting Strategy

CEO cancer is different from the cancer the rest of us get. Most notably, it’s probably smaller—and less widespread—thanks to some of the most vigilant preventive health care in the world.

Executives like JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon generally get an annual physical that takes about half a day, conducted by a team of doctors across a breadth of disciplines, including neurology and psychiatry. The cost ranges from $2,000 to $4,000. Full-body screening, intricate blood work, and MRI scans are all part of the work-up, according to David Wise, a vice president at management consultant Hay Group. “Think of it as the difference between an oil change and an engine rebuild,” he says.

Wise calls such thorough physicals a “perk-uisite,” not unlike access to the corporate jet. It’s the only such benefit that shareholders haven’t railed against in recent years. “They think it’s worth paying for,” he says.

Some of the country’s best hospitals, such as the Mayo Clinic, have special programs for executives. The C-suite work-up at Scripps takes a full day and often includes genetic testing.

In Dimon’s case, early detection may make all the difference in the CEO surviving and achieving his goal of steering JPMorgan for another five years. He said his neck and throat cancer hasn’t spread, and the prognosis for recovery is “excellent.” The treatment regimen lasts eight weeks, which puts Dimon, 58, back in stride by the time his counterparts in Europe return from Lake Como.

Experts told Bloomberg the cure rate for the tumors Dimon has can be as high as 90 percent if detected early enough.

An aggressive preventive stance also helped American International Group CEO Robert Benmosche, who was diagnosed with cancer in October 2010. Benmosche is still at the helm.

Roy Cohen, an executive coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, says most professionals who get access to blue-chip physicals embrace them wholeheartedly.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t take advantage of it,” Cohen says. “Quite frankly, I’ve always been envious.”

Dimon seems to have been particularly proactive about his health. His cancer wasn’t detected during an annual scan, but rather in an unscheduled doctor’s visit Dimon sought out because he didn’t feel quite fit.

For all the vanguard medicine, however, throat cancer may be an occupational hazard of the C-suite. Sandy Weill, Dimon’s mentor, has long been a fan of cigars and pipe smoking. And Dimon smoked cigarettes while working at Commercial Credit in the 1980s.

Cohen says Dimon’s affliction is “the cancer of CEOs.”

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