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Left: 2007. Right: 2008.
Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs has addressed rumors concerning his weight loss in a statement to the press. In this statement, Jobs said, “after further testing, my doctors think they have found the cause--a hormone imbalance that has been ‘robbing’ me of the proteins my body needs to be healthy.”
Jobs previously suffered from islet cell pancreatic cancer, a less common type of pancreatic cancer. Typically, pancreatic cancer has a high mortality rate: with a wide array of symptoms that include depression and jaundice, pancreatic cancer is tricky to diagnose, and many cases advances until surgery is no longer a viable option. However, the type Jobs had is slower growing and has a favorable survival rate.
Dr. Robert Zimmerman, interim chairman of the Department of Endocrinology at the Cleveland Clinic, one of U.S. News and World Report’s top ten best hospitals nationwide for endocrinology, says that weight loss is a common after-effect of the Whipple procedure, which Jobs had undergone. Patients who undergo the Whipple procedure lose part of their pancreas, duodenum, bile duct, and perhaps the stomach. The digestive tract of the patient is then reconstructed.
Dr. Zimmerman said, “Assuming that it’s not re-occurrence from the tumor…[Jobs’ weight loss] could be a complication of the surgery.”
Dr. Zimmerman explained that islet cell pancreatic cancer can disrupt the production of hormones like insulin. “The islets are the cells in the pancreas that normally secrete insulin, and [pancreatic cancer] can cause people to have low blood sugar.” People who lack insulin are at risk for complications like weight loss.
Although weight loss is cause for cheer in most Americans, Dr. Philip Philip, co-editor of the book Pancreatic Cancer and professor of medical oncology at the Karmanos Cancer Institute, said this is not the case for previous cancer survivors like Steve Jobs. Severe weight loss may raise an alarm that the cancer has recurred.
Dr. Philip said, “For the cancer to be removed in 2004 and for him to have the symptoms now, it probably indicates there’s a cancer activity. And weight loss is one of the typical symptom of a cancer that’s active, especially if it’s growing or getting worse.”
If Jobs’ illness interferes with his work, he stated, “I will be the first one to step up and tell our Board of Directors if I can no longer continue to fulfill my duties as Apple’s CEO.”
The Board of Directors responded in another press release, offering Jobs “our complete and unwavering support during his recuperation.”