Apple CEO Steve Jobs Did Not Have Pancreatic Cancer

An article by Miguel Helft in this morning’s New York Times continues to perpetuate the false impression Mr. Jobs is a a survivor of “pancreatic cancer.” As regular readers of Celebrity Diagnosis know, Mr. Jobs had an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor. The only thing that these two types of cancer have in common is that the cell types from which these cancers arise are both located in the same anatomic location, the pancreas.

What is commonly referred to as “pancreatic cancer” is the kind that Patrick Swayze and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have and from which Chuck Daly died. This cancer, medically referred to as pancreatic adenocarcinoma, arises from cells lining the ducts that transfer pancreatic digestive juices into the small intenstine.

“Islet cell neuroendocrine tumors” arise from small islands of cells scattered throughout the pancreas that release hormones, such as insulin, directly into the bloodstream.

What does it matter that journalists confuse themselves and the general public about these two types of tumors? It matters a lot because these are distinct diseases that are treated differently and have much different prospects for long-term survival. For example, pancreatic cancer would never be treated by a liver transplant.

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Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.


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