Just last week Steve Jobs announced his resignation as CEO of Apple Inc. after being the mastermind behind the company for more than a decade. While the media has been buzzing with this news and the potential consequences for Apple, little has been said regarding Steve Jobs’ medical history. In January 2011, he took a medical leave of absence to focus on his health. Prior to that, Jobs also took a six-month leave of absence in 2009 and underwent a liver transplant. Even before that, Jobs underwent aggressive pancreatic cancer treatment in 2004, after which he announced he was “cured.” But what exactly is Steve Jobs suffering from?
The condition is a rare disease, about 5% of all pancreatic tumors, called a neuroendocrine tumor, or NET for short. Located in the islet cells of his pancreas, NET should not be mistaken for pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancers tend to kill cells quickly, whereas neuroendocrine tumors progress more slowly and have longer survival rates. There are two types of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, functional and nonfunctional. In January 2009, Jobs released a press statement citing “a hormone imbalance that has been “robbing” me of the proteins my body needs to be healthy.” Thus, his would be classified as a functional NET, or one that produces too much or too little of various hormones necessary for our body. Also relevant is that the disease often spreads to other parts of the body, hence the need for Jobs’ liver transplant. Treatment options include surgery (for tumors that have not spread to other parts of the body), hormone therapy, radiation and chemotherapy.
Steve Jobs’ condition has brought significant awareness to NETs and other hormonal tumors such as carcinoid. The Carcinoid Cancer Foundation is especially thankful to the former CEO for all the press attention he has brought to these rare cancers. Since over 90% of carcinoid and NET cancer patients are incorrectly diagnosed and treated, critical needs for these conditions include awareness and early diagnosis. It is often within the 5 to 7 year period from initial symptoms to proper treatment that the disease spreads.