How Alternative Medicine (probably) Killed Steve Jobs

October 9th, 2011
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It’s often argued that alternative medicine is safe because most of the remedies considered to be “alternative” are in and of themselves harmless.   This is certainly true of things like homeopathy, which, if prepared properly, contains absolutely nothing other than the solvent the preparation was based on, which is usually water.    However, it does kill by another means: it displaces real, useful and scientifically valid medicine and leads to people harboring the belief that something will cure them when it won’t, directing them down the wrong road for treatment.    It does not need to completely stop someone from getting real treatment to kill; just delaying real treatment can be enough.

Such would appear to be the case with Steve Jobs.   I do not mean to make light of his death.   While I do think his legacy has become extremely inflated, especially in light of his death, he was, by all accounts a nice guy and certainly a good manager.   He was a great motivator, he had a pretty good sense of industrial design and he helped provide direction for Apple in the mid to late 1990′s when the company was faltering.

Without diminishing the grief his family and friends are surely feeling, we can still look at this death as an example of why alternative medicine is dangerous.   Hopefully it can even save lives.

In 2003, Steve Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.   Pancreatic cancer happens to be one of the most deadly forms of cancer, because it tends to be asymptomatic until it reaches very late stages of development.  By the time most pancreatic cancers are discovered, the prognosis is very very poor.   Once the cancer has metastasize, it becomes very difficult to treat.   Pancreatic cancer is often aggressive and will quickly invade the liver and other organs.  Once this happens, simply removing the tumor does little to stop the spread of the cancer and even the most aggressive treatment with chemotherapy and radiation only results in a long term survival rate of a few percent.

Steve Jobs, however, was lucky.   His form of cancer was slower in progression and less aggressive than most forms of pancreatic cancer.  Even more importantly, it was caught relatively early on in the progression of the disease.  The cancer was discovered entirely by chance.   Steve Jobs had a history of gastric problems and therefore had been receiving periodic abdominal scans. In October 2003, doctors noticed a growth that was confirmed to be pancreatic cancer.

It’s impossible to know with absolute certainty whether the cancer had begun to spread when it was detected, but based on the early stage it was in and the type of cancer, it probably had not. With any form of cancer, delaying treatment can be deadly, but with a form of cancer like pancreatic cancer, it’s all the more vital. As long as the cancer is confined to the pancreas, it can be operated on and the survival rates are very good. Yet the longer the cancer remains, the greater the odds that it has begun to spread to other organs. In 2003, the time bomb had probably not yet gone off, but it was definitely ticking.

Steve Jobs’ doctors recommended an immediate Pancreaticoduodenectomy, also known as a “Whipple Procedure”. The procedure would have removed a large portion of the pancreas, including the entire tumor along with some of the other structures around the pancreas, such as the duodenum and possibly part of the stomach. Overall, for a person in Steve Job’s stage of the disease in 2003, the prognosis for completely overcoming cancer is excellent for the procedure.

The procedure is fairly drastic, and while most who undergo it successfully are able to lead relatively normal lives, it can include complications like digestive issues and an elevated risk for diabetes.   The fact of the matter is that the cancer was not going anywhere and was only going to get worse unless it was operated on.   Doctors urged Jobs to have the procedure immediately, but he was understandably apprehensive.   Jobs instead perused a course of so-called “alternative” treatments. While these treatments may have been a lot less invasive than major surgery, there’s absolutely no evidence that they actually work.

By some reports, Jobs was “skeptical of mainstream medicine.” His preferred course of treatment was a special diet and various supplements prescribed by a naturopathic practitioner. There was concern by some of Jobs friends as well as board members at Apple, but Jobs stuck with the special diet and herbal remedies for more than nine months.

Unfortunately, scans showed that the tumor was growing at an alarming rate, with the herbal and dietary measures having no apparent effect on the progression of the disease. Finally at the end of July 2004, Jobs had the procedure to remove the cancerous tissue from his pancreas.

It’s not entirely clear from published reports exactly how far the cancer may have progressed, but what is known is that the procedure that was preformed on Jobs did not simply remove the part of the pancreas. Instead, doctors had to remove much the pancreas, gal bladder, bile duct and parts of the stomach and intestines. It therefore appears that by the time the procedure was preformed the cancer had begun to spread at least to the organs closest to the original tumor. None the less, Jobs and his doctors were hopeful that they had gotten every trace of the cancer, although this is impossible to be certain of.

After recuperating from his operation, Jobs began to resume his role at Apple and appeared to be in reasonably good health. However, over the following months and years, he would show additional signs of troubled health. In 2006, Jobs provided the keynote speech at a major apple event. Many observers were surprised by his appearance, which was described as thin, listless and unhealthy. By 2008, his health had apparently deteriorated further, resulting in Jobs taking medical leave for several months.

It was later revealed that Jobs had received a liver transplant. The exact reason for the transplant has not been made public, but it is overwhelmingly likely that it is because the cancer had returned and spread to the liver.   In most cases, the standard course of treatment for such liver tumors would be to surgically remove only the parts of the liver where the tumors are located. However, it seems that the cancer was too far progressed for anything less than complete liver transplantation.   Such surgery can cure the type of cancer Jobs had, provided it has not spread beyond the liver, but cancer does often return, often within about two years. A liver transplant tends to be the last resort for such situations.  Not only is it very major surgery, but it also involves the use of powerful immunosuppressive drugs, which introduce their own risks and reduce the ability of the body to fight both infections and cancer.

In the end, it seems the cancer returned again. Jobs began to show signs of illness again this year, resulting in his taking medical leave in January and finally stepping down last month. His death, though sooner than most had expected, is not shocking given his deteriorating health.

We’ll never be able to know for sure whether it was those nine months of inaction that killed him, but the time lost took him from having an excellent prognosis to having only a mediocre one. If you are lucky enough to catch cancer early, do not squander your opportunity to treat it early. Do what your doctor tells you gives you the best chance of survival, not what some naturepath or yogi tells you will work.


This entry was posted on Sunday, October 9th, 2011 at 6:47 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Misc, Quackery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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65 Responses to “How Alternative Medicine (probably) Killed Steve Jobs”

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  1. 51
    BMS Says:

            Matthew said:

    Well, there was supposedly this one guy a couple thousand years ago…

    Yeah, but apparently, even he went out of remission after a few days.


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  2. 52
    Anon Says:

            Matthew said:

    Well, there was supposedly this one guy a couple thousand years ago…

            BMS said:

    Yeah, but apparently, even he went out of remission after a few days.

    Wasn’t that fiction?


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  3. 53
    BMS Says:

            Anon said:

    Wasn’t that fiction?

    Well, it did come out of a book. Decide for yourself.


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  4. 54
    BMS Says:

            BMS said:

    Well, it did come out of a book. Decide for yourself.

    Did I mention that the book was a bestseller?


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  5. 55
    I'mnotreallyhere Says:

            BMS said:

    Did I mention that the book was a bestseller?

    Apparently it’s been peer reviewed, but there are still doubts over the experimental method used.


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  6. 56
    BMS Says:

            I’mnotreallyhere said:

    Apparently it’s been peer reviewed, but there are still doubts over the experimental method used.

    While members of an ecumenical council do meet the general definition of “peers” — hence, the book was indeed “peer reviewed” — experimental evidence really isn’t their thing. They prefer ipse dixit.


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  7. 57
    Doug Says:

    You have everything absolutely backwards.

    Author of this blog, you are a complete idiot, and a shill for the AMA

    It is precisely the slice-n-dice that killed him.


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  8. 58
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Doug said:

    Author of this blog, you are a complete idiot, and a shill for the AMA

    Yeah, that must be it. If I actually support science-based cancer treatment then clearly I’m just a shill for someone.

    Where the hell is my check anyway? I’ve been at it for years and still haven’t gotten anything.


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  9. 59
    Anon Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    Yeah, that must be it.

    If I actually support science-based cancer treatment then clearly I’m just a shill for someone.

    Where the hell is my check anyway?

    I’ve been at it for years and still haven’t gotten anything.

    Yeah, I’m still waiting for my checks (and not just from big pharma).

    Really the shills that come around here tend to be those who make money off treatments that don’t work (i.e. people like Doug).


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  10. 60
    Soylent Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    I’m not sure if they’re as good as Col Harland Sanders though.

    Did I mention I didn’t even want to get into this debate?

    Nor as good as the achievements of Dennis Ritchie; who passed away just few days ago on the 12th of october.


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  11. 61
    Anon Says:

            Soylent said:

    Nor as good as the achievements of Dennis Ritchie; who passed away just few days ago on the 12th of october.

    And who the media probably won’t even notice, despite him being more influential than Steve Jobs.


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  12. 62
    Doug is Retarded Says:

            Doug said:

    It is precisely the slice-n-dice that killed him.

    You are absolutely right. The cancer had nothing to do with it. Tell me, do you choke on your own drool you stupid mouth-breather?


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  13. 63
    Julian Says:

    This seems to pretty much confirm this article:

    http://www.quora.com/Steve-Jobs/Why-did-Steve-Jobs-choose-not-to-effectively-treat-his-cancer


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  14. 64
    Mister Reader Says:

    People all admire Steve Jobs and feel bad for him dying of cancer.

    I find it hard to feel sympathy for his cancer knowing he cared so little about the cancer others could get from the things he manufactured. He made the iPhone with some of the highest radiation of any phone and almost twice that of a regular phone and he never spent any money on how to reduce that or direct it away from the head eventhough he got letters from doctors and scientists pleading with him. He refused to allow radiation monitoring apps and would not ship radiation blockers or scramblers even though he was urged to do this. He also tried to stop warnings about children and he allowed child games to be sold for the phone to encourage children with developing braisn to use it.

    Do you not find this dispicable? He had cancer and I don’t see that as being something to cry about when he didn’t mind giving it to other people.


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  15. 65
    Anon Says:

            Mister Reader said:

    I find it hard to feel sympathy for his cancer knowing he cared so little about the cancer others could get from the things he manufactured.

    I didn’t know Apple was in the nuclear industry.

            Mister Reader said:

    He made the iPhone with some of the highest radiation of any phone and almost twice that of a regular phone and he never spent any money on how to reduce that or direct it away from the head

    So you finally expose yourself as the scientifically incompetent idiot that you are?

    Let me put it to you in simple words:
    * There is no evidence linking mobile phones with cancer (this has been studied repeatedly, no solid link has been found).
    * There is no reason to suspect that non-ionising radiation such as a mobile phone transmits could possibly cause cancer.
    * No mobile phone transmits at high enough power level to cause significant thermal effects (only way such radiation could harm you).

            Mister Reader said:

    eventhough he got letters from doctors and scientists pleading with him.

    No he didn’t, because scientists don’t send letters pleading for an imaginary health concern to be dealt with (they wouldn’t deserve to be called scientists if they did).

    A few quacks may have sent such crap, but quacks should be ignored, not listened to.

            Mister Reader said:

    He refused to allow radiation monitoring apps

    How could an app even measure it? Not that it’s relevant.

            Mister Reader said:

    and would not ship radiation blockers or scramblers even though he was urged to do this.

    Two things to note here:
    1. They aren’t needed as the scary radiation given off isn’t dangerous (the legal limits on transmit power are set low).
    2. Those things don’t even work (unless you just want the battery flattened).

            Mister Reader said:

    He also tried to stop warnings about children

    Baseless warnings should not exist.

            Mister Reader said:

    and he allowed child games to be sold for the phone to encourage children with developing braisn to use it.

    The only problem with encouraging children to use an iPhone or iFad is that it is encouraging a child to use an Apple product which may make them excessively fashion conscious and unwilling to experiment.

            Mister Reader said:

    Do you not find this dispicable? He had cancer and I don’t see that as being something to cry about when he didn’t mind giving it to other people.

    Yes, I find you claiming he caused other people to get cancer with no good reason despicable, but then again, I’m apparently more moral than you.


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