For such a visionary man who had a profound influence on the IT landscape, Apple’s announcement of his demise was strangely devoid of the cause of death. Maybe because Steve Jobs was an intensely private person, but it is a known fact that he had been suffering from a type of pancreatic cancer since 2004.
There are two types of cancer of the pancreas : the commoner (95%) exocrine type aka adenocarcinoma and the rarer (5%) neuro-endocrine type aka Islet cell carcinoma. The latter form was what afflicted Steve Jobs, according to several sources. Although rarer, this form of tumor is slow-growing and can produce various hormones (“functional tumors”), af act which was acknowledged by Steve Jobs in explaining his profound loss of weight.
Nevertheless, cancer of the pancreas, apart from being difficult to diagnose in the early stages, is notorious for carrying a bad prognosis.. only 4% of people suffering from it can expect to live beyond 5 years. So how did Steve Jobs manage to go on for 7 years?
Standard treatments for pancreatic cancer include the 3 common tumor-fighting strategies — surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and, most recently, targeted anticancer drugs.
Firstly, it was reported that he underwent pancreatectomy (an operation to remove the tumor) when it was first diagnosed in 2004. It is not known whether he underwent chemotherapy or radiation but, subsequently, in 2009, he had a liver transplant which probably meant that the cancer had spread to the liver. Although liver transplants are not the usual way of treating such spread of cancer, it is believed that it can be a form of cure for neuro-endocrine tumors such as the one Jobs had.
In any case, with a transplant, the use of immuno-suppressive drugs became mandatory. These drugs work by preventing the body from rejecting the transplant (which came from a human donor) but carry severe side-effects, like suppressing the body’s own immunity. Sometimes, these drugs can themselves cause fatal effects.
Because of the poor outlook, many sufferers tend to try alternative treatment startegies. Some include the Gonzalez regimen (using enzymes and vitamin supplement), radiation-based hormone therapy and herbal therapy but it is unclear whether he had resorted to alternative therapy.
Despite the best available medical care, the fact that he finally succumbed to the illness goes to show that cancer of the pancreas remains notoriously difficult to treat and still carries with it a rather grim prognosis.
- Steve Jobs’ death raises awareness of pancreatic cancer (charlotte.news14.com)