Jobs, cancer, and transplants

Let me open by saying I'm not a doctor nor do I have special knowledge of Steve Jobs' health. What I do have is family history with pancreatic cancer, how it can involve the liver, and what that means for long-term survival.

We now know that Jobs recently had a liver transplant. This is not terribly surprising. Liver disorders and cancer go hand-in-hand with pancreatic cancer. Jobs as you may recall, had a cancerous tumor removed from his pancreas in 2004. He was remarkably lucky, if you can use a word like that for a situation like this, in having a very rare form of pancreatic cancer called an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor.

Unlike the far more common kinds of pancreatic cancers, which even with good, timely treatment has a median survival period of about six months, the islet cell variant can be beat, or at least held in check. With excellent care, patents can see a median survival rate of five years. I think we can safely presume that Jobs got the best care money can buy.

Unfortunately, all the pancreatic cancers can also involve the liver. While no one is saying that liver cancer is why Jobs has a transplant, it's not at all unlikely. According to the University of Southern California Department of Surgery site, "Islet cell tumors of the pancreas commonly metastasize (spread) to the liver. Metastasis may be present in as many as 50% of all patients at the time. Unlike liver metastases from other tumors that rapidly lead to liver failure and death, liver metastases from islet cell tumors are slow growing and the patient may live for many months to years after the diagnosis."

Again, I don't know if this is the case with Jobs, but it seems likely that was the case. The survival rate for liver transplants, according to the most recent report from the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients is 87.85%.

We don't know exactly where Jobs had his surgery other than that it was in Memphis Tenn. A little study makes me believe that it was at the Methodist University in Memphis since their results are a bit better than those of other hospitals, and, what's far more important, they have a statistically higher rate of getting patients on their waiting list a transplant.

With millions of patients needing liver transplants and only about 6,000 livers available per year, citing data collected by Dr. George Ioannou in 2006/6 any increase in the chances of getting a transplant was very important.

In the long run, Jobs' surgery is likely to be successful. The American Liver Foundation states that the five-year survival rate for liver transplant patients is about 75 percent.

Based on this, and other sources, if all goes well, we can expect to see Jobs back in Apple's saddle within six-months to a year.

So, this is good news for both Jobs and Apple. That said, now, as ever, there are never enough organs to go around for transplants. I strongly encourage everyone to become an organ donor. I am.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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