updated 05:00 pm EST, Fri January 16, 2009
Cancer recurring in Jobs?
The health problems that led to Steve Jobs' leave of absence from Apple may still be connected to cancer, despite attempts to reassure the public, say doctors quoted by Reuters. While Jobs has described the issue as just a "hormonal imbalance" with simple treatment, the doctors suggest that symptoms could indicate a recurrence of pancreatic cancer. Jobs briefly stepped away from the company in 2004 to cope with his illness.
Dr. Roderich Schwarz, an oncological surgeon at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, notes that Jobs was attacked by an unusually rare type of tumor known as an islet cell. These are typically easy to remove in surgery, says Schwarz, but recur in half of patients. An endocrinologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Dr. Clay Semenkovich, additionally observes that islet-cell tumors can trigger excessive secretions of hormones like insulin, producing the sort of weight loss Jobs experienced during 2008.
Beyond a recurrence, an imbalance could also have been created by side effects of a Whipple treatment used in 2004, or a straightforward insulin deficiency. The latter would not explain the need to take six months' leave from work, however.
Boosting the case for cancer is an observation from Joseph Kim, a cancer specialist at the City of Hope center near Los Angeles. Kim notes that many cancers can be treated without invasive procedures, or with surgery that only requires a few days' recovery. Recurrent islet-cell tumors, however, can be "extremely difficult, if not risky" to remove, says Kim. Semenkovich argues that Jobs may need such a complicated surgery, which could well require six months for preparation and subsequent recovery, particularly in light of Jobs' low weight. "Surgery in somebody who has lost a lot of weight is a risk," the doctor says.
Anonymous sources monitoring Jobs' condition, meanwhile, say that Jobs may be considering a liver transplant due to unspecified complications of his past cancer. Islet-cell tumors can frequently spread to the liver, says Prof. Steven Brower of the Mercer University School of Medicine. Jobs has refused to elaborate on his health, simply saying "Why don't you guys leave me alone -- why is this important?" in a telephone interview with Bloomberg.