FAQ: Steve Jobs' Pancreatic Cancer
Uncommon Islet Cell Tumor Often Curable -- Unless It Comes Back
Can Neuroendocrine Tumors/Islet Cell Carcinomas Be Cured? continued...
"If it can be cured with surgery we try for that," Levi says. "If not there are options: chemotherapy and a number of other options to try to control this tumor. Some of these cancers are not curable, but patients can do well for years and years. ... Many can be treated medically for months and years and do quite well and lead normal lives to the last."
Jobs is said to have undergone the Whipple procedure. This is the preferred type of surgery when an islet cell tumor is on the head of the pancreas. It means that the head of the pancreas is removed, as is part of the bile duct, the gallbladder, and the first part of the small intestine. Sometimes part of the stomach is removed as well. Then the remaining parts of these organs are connected back to the small intestine.
Why Did Steve Jobs Have a Liver Transplant?
Although it's now known that Jobs received a liver transplant in Tennessee, it's not clear why. However, Levi says that a small number of patients with islet cell carcinoma may undergo liver transplant if their cancer has spread to the liver but does not appear to have spread elsewhere.
"A very small subset of patients with metastatic neuroendocrine tumors can be treated with liver transplant -- and this can be curative," Levi says.
It's not a procedure for people who may have cancer remaining in their bodies. That's because transplant patients must stay on immune-suppressing anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives. Without a functioning immune system, remaining cancer cells grow uncontrollably.
"The cancer can recur after liver transplant. When it does recur, it carries a pretty poor prognosis and ultimately is the cause of death," Levi says." We are limited in what we can do. The patient is immune suppressed. This usually means the cancer is aggressive, and once it recurs it usually is not curable."