The pancreatic cancer Apple and Pixar Animation CEO Steve Jobs is suffering from is rare and treatable, but often leads to diabetes later in life, a cancer expert told The Mac Observer, Sunday.
Mr. Jobs told fellow employees Sunday by e-mail that he underwent surgery over the weekend for the removal of a pancreatic, cancerous tumor and that he would take the month of August off to recover.
According to Dr. Brian Edwards, a cancer specialist from Cincinnati, Ohio, Mr. Jobsi cancer - known as islet cell neuroendocrine - is a treatable cancer found primarily in men between the ages of 30 and 60.
"The key to this cancer is that it be found early, as it apparently was for Mr. Jobs, " Dr. Edwards told The Mac Observer, Sunday. "Islet-cell cancer is very treatable and if you catch it early, there is little chance of dying from it."
Dr. Edwards said that while islet cancer is rare, it is a far less serious than most other pancreatic cancers, making up only about 1.5% of the total cases.?He also confirmed that surgery is the primary treatment of choice, especially for early stage tumors.
The pancreas, an organ about the size of a hand, is located behind the lower part of the stomach. It makes insulin and enzymes that help the body digest and use food. Spread all over the pancreas are clusters of cells called the islets of Langerhans. Islets are made up of two types of cells: alpha cells, which make glucagon, a hormone that raises the level of glucose, or sugars, in the blood, and beta cells, which make insulin.
Dr. Edwards explained that there are at least five distinct cancers that can attack pancreatic islet cells - some of the cancers more serious than others. As a result, there can be future health concerns.
"Depending on the size of the tumor and exactly what type of cancer or cancers they found in the islet cells, there can be some long term health issues, but nothing that canit be controlled," Dr. Edwards commented.
Although he does not know the exact specifics of Mr. Jobsi cancer, Dr. Edwards did caution the health consequences of islet cancer can be long term, including possibly becoming hypoglycemic or diabetic.
"Weire (now) finding that diabetes is linked more than 50% of the time to people who have islet cell neuroendocrine," Dr. Edwards said. "Iim not saying Mr. Jobs will have diabetes in the future, but his chances based on what we know are above normal."
Dr. Edwards said Mr. Jobs could have suffered from a number of symptoms before even seeing a doctor, including pain from ulcers that are a result of pancreatic islet-cell tumors. "He could have had an ulcer that proved the existence of the tumor," he said. "Or he could have had low blood sugar, which is a symptom of islet-cell cancer, and then suffered from headaches, weakness, sweating or a number of other things."
The exact cause of pancreatic islet-cell tumors is not known, Dr. Edwards said. However, scientists believe certain forms of the disorder may be inherited.