What Kind of Cancer Did Steve Jobs Have? And Other Questions About His Death

Steve Jobs died Wednesday of a rare type of cancer, just weeks after receiving a liver transplant and stepping down from his long-time position as Apple’s CEO after saying that he “could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple CEO.” But while we’ll likely be learning from his example in business and tech for decades to come, it doesn’t seem like we’ll be learning nearly so much about his cancer or treatment. He survived far longer than doctors predicted–initially, they only gave him three to six months to live–but Jobs was so secretive about his illness and treatment that little is known about his rare form of cancer (called ‘islet cell neuroendocrine tumor’). Here are the answers we do have about his battle with cancer and his death:

What kind of cancer did Steve Jobs have?

Jobs first announced to his employees that he’d been diagnosed with a tumor in his pancreas in 2004, and received what’s commonly called a “whipple procedure” to remove the tumor in July of the same year. In a message to his employees at the time, he explained:

I had a very rare form of pancreatic cancer called an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor, which represents about 1 percent of the total cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed each year, and can be cured by surgical removal if diagnosed in time (mine was). I will not require any chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

Islet cell neuroendocrine tumors are rare–according to the University of California Department of Surgery, only 2,500 people are diagnosed with them per year in the U.S.–so researchers don’t know nearly as much about the tumors as other more common forms of cancer. But in general, they are tumors that form out of the endocrine, or hormone-producing, cells in the pancreas. They’re divided into two types: Active tumors, which can be particularly aggressive and devastating due to secretion of hormones, and inactive, which are slow-growing and relatively benign compared to the former type.

Find out more about the warning signs of pancreatic cancer.

How difficult is it to treat, and what are the survival rates?

In a commencement address delivered at Stanford in 2005, Jobs divulged details about his diagnosis and early treatment, explaining that doctors initially told him he only had about three to six months to live:

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    • Brandt Hardin

      Visionaries like Steve Jobs reveal the true secret to the Universe in that nothing is impossible with time, perseverance, and positive visualization. Such a passion for furthering human communication inspires. His legacy will survive generations with names like Edison, Tesla as the greatest inventors and visionaries of all time. As an artist, I draw from these inspirations and advancements in my work and you may enjoy my recent portrait of Mr. Jobs, now In Memoriam at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/08/end-of-era-steve-jobs.html

    • negreanu elygo

      R I P

    • Mary

      Steve Jobs will be missed by the world. It is important to note that the National Cancer Institute spent only an estimated 89.4 million on pancreatic cancer research in 2009. This represents only 2% of the NCI’s budget. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the US. The survival rates have not changed in over 40 years. Clearly there needs to be more money spent on research.

    • Aditya SHARMA


    • Aditya SHARMA

      i love Steve Jobs and his inventions like the ipad mac books etc

    • jessejames4

      Jobs did not technically die from the pancreatic cancer. Who knows how long he could have continued to live. He died from the chemo and other aggressive practices from doctors who are pimps to big-pharma. Doctors who push the three methodologies that make them the most money: cut it out, poison with chemo or burn it with radiation. The alternative-methods doctors have been attacked by AMA for getting real results outside of the big-pharma box.

      Watch Cut, Poison and Burn, a realistic movie about what happens to doctors who have a cure and try to help patients with it.

      I have no ties or affiliation with the documentarians who made the movie. It is a powerful indictment against the AMA and the cronies who run it.

      • no jesse

        No, “Jesse,” he didn’t die from chemo and aggressive therapies. If you’d done any research, you’d know he used alternative therapies and, reportedly, no chemo but died (from pancreatic cancer, not drugs) anyway. Prescription drugs and cancer treatments can both save and damage the body. Hopefully people don’t make blanket statements for or against their use without considering all the information.

    • PC FTW

      PC at last wins the game!