What Role Did Alternatives Play in the Death of Steve Jobs?

In the wake of the tragic death of Apple founder Steve Jobs from pancreatic cancer last week, questions are being raised about what role his use of alternatives rather than conventional medicine may have played in his early demise.

According to Steve Jobs’ death certificate, issued Monday by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, Jobs died of respiratory arrest brought on by a “metastatic pancreas neuroendocrine tumor” which was the official cause of his death on October 5.

While his battle with pancreatic cancer was quite public for the last few years, what is not as well known is how he went about getting treatment.

Brian Dunning of Skeptics Blog reports that Jobs was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer almost eight years ago. While most pancreatic cancers are very aggressive and usually terminal, Jobs had a very rare – and very treatable – form of the disease called an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor. If caught soon enough, this type of cancer has excellent survival rates. The average survival rate is about 10 years depending on how soon the tumor is discovered and removed.

Being a man of great wealth, you would think Jobs would have no reason to hesitate before getting himself into surgery, but that’s not what happened. Jobs, a Buddhist and a vegetarian, was known to be skeptical of conventional medicine and opted to delay the surgery in order to try a special diet prescribed by Dean Ornish, MD.

Dr. Ornish is a credible physician who promotes lifestyle changes that included a primarily vegan diet, regular moderate exercise, and yoga and other relaxation techniques as a way to reverse the effects of coronary artery disease without surgery or drugs. Controlled testing has shown excellent results. Although still in the testing stages, the technique has also been found to halt or even reverse the progression of some prostrate cancers. According to his website, his current research, which he is conducting with Nobel Prize winner Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, involves how comprehensive lifestyle changes affect gene expression by “turning on” disease-preventing genes and “turning off” genes that promote cancer and heart disease.

However, Ornish’s diet is still considered an “alternative” which means it should never be used in place of conventional treatment.

Whether Jobs opted out of all other treatment during this time is not known, only that he delayed a surgery that might have had better results had he pursued it earlier.

“Steve caught his very [cancer] early, and should have expected to survive much longer than a decade,” Dunning writes. “Unfortunately Steve relied on a diet instead of early surgery. There is no evidence that diet has any effect on islet cell carcinoma.”

Although it is difficult to say what impact, if any, the nine month delay had on the cancer, the tumor had indeed grown by the time he submitted to surgery in 2004. He underwent a “modified Whipple” procedure which removed a lot more than just the tumor. It also took out the right side of the pancreas, the gallbladder, and parts of the stomach, bile duct, and small intestine. The fact that so much more had to be removed suggests that Jobs cancer may have spread beyond the pancreas.

After the surgery, Jobs bragged about not needing chemotherapy or radiation, which he took as a sign that surgeons believed they “got it all” but, sadly, this was not the case.

In 2009, Jobs underwent a liver transplant, which strongly suggests the cancer had spread beyond the digestive system and into an organ that is one of the most common sites of metastasis. Two years later, he was dead.

In all probability, no one will ever really know if Jobs hastened his own death by attempting to cure himself with an alternative approach. But it could have, which is enough reason for all of us to think long and hard before putting aside conventional medicine in the case of serious illness – even for just a few months.

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