Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pancreatic Cancer

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Since the death of Steve Jobs, interest to shed light on the disease that took his life at the age of 56 grew everyday .

In John Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (said to be the best hospital in the world according to several surveys), 80% of the donation to the hospital's center dedicated to pancreatic cancer goes to support the science and education efforts to fight the illness.

Pancreatic cancer is often called a "silent killer". In Jobs's case, it was a slow progressing tumor, he was diagnosed with it in the late part of 2003. The disease has a very low rate of survival, about only 4% and according to the statistics provided by the American Cancer Society, it is the 10th most deadly cancer in the US and around the world. Only 95% of those diagnosed with this cancer lived up to five years. In Steve Jobs's case, because it was a rare form of pancreatic cancer with a slow progressing tumor, he managed to survive up to eight years.  

It is still surprising why the Apple co-founder got this disease when he was following a healthy lifestyle. His eating habit was good, he was not into meat, in fact he was a militant vegetarian and thinking he would be cleansed by natural fruit juices, he went on a fruit diet. In the late part of 2003, Jobs was diagnosed with this  disease but it was only in August 2004 that he agreed to have a surgery. He underwent a medical procedure that successfully removed the tumor but the malignancy was already spread beyond pancreas which prompted him to undergo a liver transplant in 2009 to save other internal organs.

What is Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic Cancer is a disease in which a malignant cell forms in the tissues of the pancreas. The pancreas is a gland of 6 inches long and shaped like a thin pear lying on its side, it has three areas: the head, the body and the tail. It is found in our abdomen near the stomach and the intestines. Its main functions in our body are:  To produce juices that help digest foods and to produce hormones like insulin and glucagon, that help control blood sugar levels and help the body use and store the energy it gets from food. 

There are two known types of Pancreatic cancer, one is adenocarcinoma tumor while the other is neuroendocrine tumor, the one that affected Steve Jobs. Neuroendocrine tumor is a rare form of pancreatic cancer which would just progress in years. At the early stage, pancreatic cancer causes no symptoms until the condition is advanced and almost incurable. But among the cancer diseases, this kind of cancer is the most aggressive one which claimed life within six months after the diagnose, Steve Jobs's cancer was less aggressive which enable him to live up to eight years.

The disease cannot be detected right away because it has no severe symptoms other than the following:
  • Nausea 
  • Fever 
  • Weight loss 
  • Jaundice (yellowish skin) 
  • Stomach pain
  • Abdomen's unusual swelling
  • Loss of Appetite
But the above-mentioned symptoms could be the caused of other conditions which made pancreatic cancer even more difficult to detect. An ultrasound scan may often miss to detect the disease as ultrasound waves are not good at penetrating deep into body tissues. MRI or ACT scan may provide a more detailed and accurate picture. 

If a tumor is detected, surgeons will perform a laparoscopy (passing a thin camera inside the abdomen) but if  biopsy confirms cancer, surgeons will remove the tissue as an only way to cure the cancer but this process is not effective to all patients who had been diagnosed with the disease, some of them won't be able to survive longer than five years. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy may help shrink the tumor but not a good guarantee to cure the cancer.

Pancreatic Cancer Prevention

So far, despite recent advances in medical treatment and procedure, there are no known preventive measures for pancreatic cancer, everyone is not spare of this disease, the only preventive measure to take is minimizing or controlling certain risk factors:
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Stop smoking
  • Avoid fatty foods
  • Follow a healthy life style that is stress-free
  • Exercise

Despite advances in science, the prognosis associated with this disease is still relatively poor. Only 20 to 30% of people whose tumor removed from surgery survived up to five years. For people with aggressive pancreatic cancer cases, surviving beyond three years is very rare, Hollywood actor Patrick Swayze and local actor, Rudy Fernandez, succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2009, like Steve Jobs, they were in their 50s when they were diagnosed with the disease and died a year later.

Risk Factors

Most people who develop pancreatic cancer have no predisposing risk factors. The following are just some of the biggest risk factors though not all are the exact reasons of developing this deadly disease:
  • Age - as a person ages, risk of acquiring this disease increases 
  • Gender - mostly men
  • Race - African-American maybe at greater risk
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • History of diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Chronic pancreatic inflammation
  • Having a fatty diet
But despite these associated risks, no identifiable or specific cause is found in most people who develop pancreatic cancer, Steve Jobs for example was a vegetarian and was not into fatty diet.

Steve Jobs as a visionary and business leader, the man who reshaped the world with his innovations

According to a short biography of Steve Jobs published by Apple, he could have save from this deadly disease if he agreed to have a surgery right away at the time the tumor was detected, but he did not and instead followed a special diet that he thought would eradicate the tumor, it took nine long months before he agreed to have it remove through surgery. 

Steve Jobs was a legendary innovator of iMac, iPod, iPhone, iTunes and iPad, he revolutionized technology and showed us how to live in the modern world through the lens of sleek and highly innovative electronic gadgets. He was called the greatest visionary and business leader of our time and often compared to Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

On the birth of iPod, he successfully reshaped the idea of how people should listen to music and so with the birth of iPhone in 2007. In 2010, he cemented his image and reputation of being the messiah of electronic gadget when he created iPad which many experts believed as " a starter of post-PC era", through this sleek and stylish device, Steve Jobs attempted to switch people's mind away from PC and started an end to the personal computer industry, at first several experts were skeptic and doubted the power of this tablet, but it astonished them when it became Apple's highest best-selling product of all time, experts eventually called him "the man with a golden, magical touch"

Dubbed as an extraordinary man with a remarkable talent, this legendary innovator was by far, a creative genius unrivaled by any standard. He left a distinguish mark in more than five industries: 
  • Personal computer with the birth of Apple II and Macintosh
  • Music with iPod and iTunes
  • Phone with iPhone series
  • Animation with Pixar including Toy Story
  • Tablet with iPad
People from different walks of life around the world, including business and political leaders and his biggest rivals in the computer industry paid tribute to him calling him the rarest of the rarest brilliant innovator of this generation. Most of the people learned of his death and expressed sympathy through the devices he made: Macbook, iPhone and iPad. 

Sources:  The Daily Mail UK
               International Business Times
              Apple's All About Steve Jobs
              Medicine Health