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Jobs Battled Pancreatic Cancer, Survived Longer Than Expected

Jobs Battled Pancreatic Cancer, Survived Longer Than Expected

Apple co-founder Steven Jobs, 56, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer yesterday, after months and weeks of rumors that the disease he had been fighting since 2003 had returned. Jobs had tried several treatments, including surgery to remove the pancreatic tumor in 2004 and a liver transplant in 2009. When Jobs announced at age 49 that he had been diagnosed with a islet cell neuroedrocrine tumor, a rare form or pancreatic cancer, he said that his cancer was cured by surgery.

Jobs also tried to improve his diagnosis with dietary changes and is reported to have made a trip to Switzerland in 2009 for a radiation-based treatment for neuroendocrine cancer that is not available in the U.S. While Jobs survived for eight years with pancreatic cancer, another high profile person, Patrick Swayze survived the disease for only 20 months.  Actor Michael Landon also died shortly after his diagnosis.

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What is pancreatic cancer?

The pancreas contains two types of glands: exocrine glands that produce enzymes that break down fats and proteins, and endocrine glands that make hormones like insulin that regulate sugar in the blood. Jobs died of tumors originating in the endocrine glands, which are among the rarer forms of pancreatic cancer.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms in the early stages are vague and could be related to many other conditions. Typically symptoms include a loss of appetite, back and abdominal pain, chronic fatigue and symptoms of jaundice including yellowing of eyes and skin.

How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed? 

Most cases are diagnosed after imaging such as an MRI or a CT scan. The imaging tests are used to take a picture of not only the abdomen but also the adjacent organs. The current gold standard of diagnosis and staging is the The helical "spiral" CT scan. In terms of blood tests, the CA19-9 is the best available tumor marker test for tracking the progress of the disease, but it's only 80 percent accurate in diagnosing the disease.

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How is pancreatic cancer treated?

Chemotherapy, surgery and radiation are the most common treatments for pancreatic cancer. Most recently some targeted drug therapies such as Elotinib have been used for people who have pancreatic cancer but have not seen a benefit from traditional treatment. This drug has shown to see a 23 percent survival rate for those with this aggressive cancer.

Who is at risk?

Over 44,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the US each year. Neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer, the kind that Jobs had, is much rarer. According to researchers and Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, those at the greatest risk have a family history of pancreatic cancer, are of Ashkenazi Jewish decent, are smokers, and are often over 50. People who suffer from chronic pancreatitis or from diabetes may also be at higher risk. Some studies show that African-Americans may also be at risk due to environmental factors and higher smoking rates.

What is the survival rate? 

Nearly 37,000 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer die from the disease each year. In fact, the average survival rate for those who have metastatic cancer is six months. While progress is being made in terms of research, the five year survival rate for those living with pancreatic cancer is still less than five percent. Early detection, when the tumor is still small, can increase the five year survival rate to 25 percent. The American Cancer Society says that the one year survival rate for this very aggressive cancer is 20 percent. The low survival rate is tied to the stage of tumors at the point of diagnosis.


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