Jobs Lived 8 Years with Pancreatic Cancer, Steinman for 4, But It Was Steinman Who Beat the Odds. Here's Why.

By Veronique Greenwood | October 7, 2011 12:14 pm

spacing is important

Steve Jobs and new Nobelist Ralph Steinman both died of pancreatic cancer, a killer that’s hard to spot until it’s very far advanced. But fundamental differences in their diseases made Steinman’s survival more miraculous than Jobs’. Katherine Harmon at Scientific American has a great explanation of this, starting with the fact that the pancreas is made up of two different kinds of cells:

The pancreas itself is essentially two different organs, which means two distinct kinds of tissue—and two very different types of cancer, points out [Leonard Saltz, acting chief of the gastrointestinal oncology service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center]. The most common kind of pancreatic cancer[s] [the kind Steinman had] originate in what is known as the exocrine portion of the pancreas. This is the main mass of the organ, which makes digestive enzymes that get shuttled to the gastrointestinal tract via specialized ducts.

“Scattered in that larger organ are thousands of tiny islands,” Satlz explains. “These are islands of endocrine tissue,” which makes hormones that are secreted into the blood. It was a cancer of these islet cells that Jobs had.

For people with Jobs’ cancer, which is quite rare, survival is measured in years. For those with Steinman’s cancer, it’s measured in months.

Steinman’s survival for four years after diagnosis may be due in part to his use of experimental immunotherapies, which were being developed by his colleagues and sometimes incorporated Steinman’s own discoveries. Jobs’ liver transplant to replace an organ riddled with metastases, on the other hand, may or may not have helped him, says Saltz—having to take immunosuppressants to prevent rejection of the new organ weakens the immune system’s abilities to fight off the cancer.

Read more at Scientific American.

Images courtesy of mattbuchanan / flickr and Rockefeller University

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Haymoon

    I wonder what kind of pancreatic cancer the late Brian Lenihan, Irish Minister for Finance had?

  • ursusmaritimus

    If people hang out in heaven with people based on what they die from Steve and Patrick Swayze just formed the duo Dirty Jobs.

  • doloreskeo

    Pancreatic cancer is the most deadly cancer with a survival rate of just 6 percent.

  • Ikto

    Jobs also practiced “alternative medicine” for several months before following his doctor’s recommendations. That wasted time may have cost him his life.

  • Laura

    God bless the researchers who are studying this illness. My mother died of it (in months, not years).

  • connie

    Hope more money goes into research into this deadly disease. Seems that all the money is going to brest and colon cancers.. Everybody needs help to fight this awful disease.

  • Barbara

    I hope Steve Jobs wife uses some of his fortune for reshearch toward a cure of this deadly cancer. My husband died within months of it also. He was only 49 years old.

  • Susan Courtnay

    The difference in survival for people with different forms of pancreatic cancer is not news. But it disturbs me that the cancers that they “rich” have get more attention, and different treatment, than the rest of us. A liver transplant for someone with metastatic cancer of any kind is such a waste of time, money and resources it should be a crime. None of the patients I have ever cared for with liver metastasis from any type of cancer would have been approved for a transplant. I hope Mr. Jobs paid for it out of his own pocket, not his insurance company! The reason so much more money “seems” to be going toward breast and colon cancer is that these are two very common cancers that affects hundreds of thousands of people each year and are curable diseases. Pancreatic cancer, even though it is tragic, is still a fairly rare disease with no real cure in sight. I am sympathetic to people with this disease, but economics do have a place in medicine! Susan, oncology nurse of 22 years.

  • stan m

    pancreatic cancer is usually caused by diabettes and is curable if found before symptoms.


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