The Cost of Warren Buffett’s Cancer Treatment

Warren Buffett has prostate cancer. (So do a lot of American men.) Mr. Buffett will be undergoing an unnamed radiation treatment over the course of two months, most likely Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT). There is a bit of controversy about IMRT! It’s one of the most expensive ways to treat prostate cancer, but but its efficacy is comparable to cheaper treatments.

Some fun facts about IMRT: 

• How IMRT works:

A relative new technique, IMRT involves use of a tightly focused radiation beam that is directed at the prostate from a variety of angles. The idea is to bathe the entire prostate in radiation to kill all the tumor cells, while sparing the nearby bladder, rectum and small intestine. This allows a much higher dose of radiation than could have been used two decades ago, Botnick said. Typical side effects include fatigue during therapy, irritation to urination and slower urination. Other side effects can include rectal irritation and bleeding, impotence and a very low risk of incontinence. The frequency of side effects is only a few percent, whereas if the same dose of radiation were given 20 years ago, the frequency would have been 20% to 30%.


• Amount urology practices get paid by medicare for each round IMRT (intensity modulated radiation therapy) $47,000 per patient (NYT)

• Amount that the urologist stands to pocket from that fee: $2,000 (NYT)

• How much a practice is paid for radioactive seeds, an alternative treatment: $15,000 per patient (NYT)

• Amount the urologist makes from that treatment: $900 (NYT)

• Cost for a practice to buy their own IMRT machine: $1.5 to $2 million (Baltimore Sun)

• Increase in percentage of patients prescribed IMRT at Chesapeake Urology after the clinic acquired their own machine: from 12% to 43% (threefold) (Baltimore Sun)

• Amount any of this matters to Warren Buffett and his zillions: None

• Amount it should matter to you if you or a family member gets diagnosed with prostate cancer: It’s at least worth consideration



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