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Steve Jobs loses his battle with pancreatic cancer

Jessica Padykula is a freelance writer and editor in Toronto, Canada covering a wide range of  topics for several online lifestyle publications. She is a regular contributor for SheKnows, covering travel, style, relationships, health and...

Pancreatic cancer: What you need to know

As you’ve surely read, much-loved Apple CEO Steve Jobs lost his battle to pancreatic cancer yesterday. The enigmatic technology icon and creator of some of this generation’s most popular (and best-selling) gadgets kept his health out of the spotlight as much as possible. Since his untimely passing at the age of 56, the illness he suffered from is now making headlines. Here's what you need to know about pancreatic cancer.

Steve Jobs holding iphone

Jobs and pancreatic cancer

Notorious for keeping his cards close to his chest and guarding Apple's secrets like a castle gatekeeper, so, too, did he manage to keep his illness under wraps. He was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer seven years ago and although that fact was kept fairly quiet despite his public persona, Job's dramatic weight loss over the years kept speculation about his health on people's minds. Specifically, he suffered from a tumor in his pancreas – a neuroendocrine pancreatic tumor, which doctors removed in 2004. Speculation swirled that the cancer had returned when Jobs underwent a liver transplant two years ago.

What exactly is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer starts in the tissues of your pancreas, an organ which secretes enzymes that aid digestions and hormones which help regulate blood sugar. The cancer occurs when there is a genetic mutation that causes the cells to grow at a rapid, uncontrollable pace, eventually forming a tumor. There are two types of pancreatic cancer – the more rare endocrine variety that Jobs suffered from (which forms in the hormone-producing cells of the pancreas) and the more common adenocarcinoma, which forms in the pancreas ducts where digestive juices are produced.

Pancreatic cancer affects approximately 40,000 people a year in America — almost all of whom die within five years of diagnosis. Patrick Swayze died of the disease in 2009, only one year after his diagnosis. Despite it hitting a smaller number of people, pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. According to the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, in the last five years more than 210,000 people have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and over 92 percent have passed away during the first year of their diagnosis.

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms & treatment

Though symptoms usually don't appear until the disease is in its advanced stages some signs may include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen that moves to the back
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Depression
  • Blood clots

The main course of treatment involves surgery and removing the cancer whenever possible. If that is not an option, doctors try to ensure the cancer doesn't spread. Standard cancer-fighting agents including chemotherapy, radiation and anti-cancer drugs like Erlotinib, which blocks chemicals that signal cancer cells to grow, may also be used to control the disease. Even when it's diagnosed early, pancreatic cancer is known to spread rapidly and not usually detected in its beginning stages, making it one of the leading causes of cancer death.

Pancreatic cancer prevention

Although there is no way to prevent pancreatic cancer there are some simple steps you can take to minimize your risk, including quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and eating a healthy diet.

Jobs' battle with the disease has made him a silent spokesperson for this rare but devastating form of cancer. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

To learn more visit the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation.

Watch: Steve Jobs' Stanford commencement address

Drawing from some of the most pivotal points in his life, Steve Jobs, chief executive officer and co-founder of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, urged graduates to pursue their dreams and see the opportunities in life's setbacks -- including death itself -- at the university's 114th Commencement on June 12, 2005.

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