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Steve Jobs and 39,000 Others This Year with Pancreatic Cancer

Saturday, October 08, 2011 - 02:19 PM

Pancreatic cancer cells, grown in culture (Anne Weston, LRI, CRUK. Wellcome Images/flickr)

Here at Radiolab, we were very saddened when we learned that Steve Jobs had lost his struggle with cancer. The news brought to our minds the piece that Lu Olkowski reported for our 'Diagnosis' episode about pancreatic cancer.

We reached out to Teri Brentnall, one of the doctors that you hear in that story, for her thoughts about pancreatic cancers, the state of treatment and research. This is what she told us:

"The death of Steve Jobs brings to the forefront the loss of life that is the frequent outcome of patients with pancreatic cancer. There are multiple forms of pancreatic cancer--the one that most people think about is adenocarcinoma, which is the most lethal kind. Most people die within 2 years of disease diagnosis.  Mr. Jobs had another, more rare type of pancreatic cancer that is called an neuroendocrine cancer.  The longer survival time that Mr. Jobs had (more than 7 years), is typical of this type of tumor.  Overall pancreatic cancer, regardless of type, is the 4th most common cause of cancer death in the United States.  Researchers have valiantly been looking for better treatment methods, in both adenocarcinoma and neuroendocrine cancers of the pancreas.  There have been some recent breakthroughs, including the use of  2 new chemotherapy agents for neuroendocrine tumors.  In 2009, Mr. Jobs had a liver transplant for the metastases of the pancreas neuroendocrine tumor that had spread to his liver.  There is not much data available regarding that approach, but the small studies that do exist suggest that liver transplantation does not usually lead to cure.  Overall, pancreatic cancer, in all of its forms, is a highly lethal and yet it is remarkably underfunded disease.   I hope that the public interest in the death of Mr. Jobs from this terrible cancer will raise support for the scientific studies that are needed to make a difference for the nearly 39,000 people in the US who will join Mr. Jobs and die of the disease this year.  A cure is possible if scientists are supported to solve the problem."

Teri Brentnall, MD
Professor, Dept Medicine
Walters Endowed Chair
University of Washington

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