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: