Video: Steve Jobs issues statement on health

Image: JoNel Aleccia
By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
updated 1/5/2009 4:13:27 PM ET 2009-01-05T21:13:27

Reports that a hormone imbalance may be responsible for Apple chief executive Steve Jobs’ recent weight loss do little to quell concerns about the pancreatic cancer survivor’s health, endocrinologists said.

In a public statement released Monday, Jobs, 53, blamed the hormone imbalance for "‘robbing’ me of the proteins my body needs to be healthy."

Jobs, said he will undergo a “relatively simple” treatment and will remain in charge of Apple. “Sophisticated blood tests have confirmed this diagnosis.”

Speculation about Jobs' health has become more widespread in recent months after he appeared increasingly gaunt at technology events throughout the year and recently announced he won't deliver his highly anticipated presentation at the annual Macworld computer trade show this month.

Such a condition could indicate the recurrence of the rare but treatable islet cell neuroendocrine tumor, for which Jobs underwent surgery in 2004, said Dr. Jeffrey I. Mechanick, an endocrinologist with the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

“It is certainly suggestive of either recurrence or progression of an underlying condition,” said Mechanick, a representative for the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, who emphasized that he is not familiar with Jobs’ particular case.

But Jobs’ claim also could indicate another endocrine problem or a completely unrelated illness, cautioned Dr. Robert H. Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist with the University of California, San Francisco. Lustig said it’s impossible to evaluate Jobs’ health or speculate on a specific condition based on the limited information provided.

“He’s left us with a puzzle, as he often does,” said Lustig. “Mr. Jobs’ ... is enormously vague and enormously vague on purpose.”

Steve Jobs now and then (2005).
Steve Jobs, left, in a recent photo and in 2005, a year after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

An islet cell neuroendocrine tumor is a slow-growing form of pancreatic cancer. It’s responsible for only about 3 percent of all pancreatic cancers, which are diagnosed in an estimated 37,680 people a year, according to the National Cancer Institute. Most pancreatic cancer cases are not diagnosed until the disease has spread, but patients with islet cell tumors have a good prognosis, according to experts, if the tumors are surgically removed before they have spread to other organs.

An islet cell tumor is caused by abnormal cells that form in the hormone-producing endocrine tissues of the pancreas. Islet cell tumors may be benign or cancerous.

The endocrine system includes the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, pancreas and adrenal glands which control the release of hormone chemicals into the body.

Such tumors can wreak havoc with hormones, causing overproduction of gastrin, which causes too much stomach acid; glucagon, which creates too much sugar; and insulin, which causes the body to store too much sugar.

A return or spread of the previous tumor, or development of a new tumor, could cause a hormone imbalance that could lead to “wasting,” including a depletion of protein and other nutrients, Mechanick said. That would lead to metabolic problems that could cause dramatic weight loss, he added.

But Lustig said that loss of protein is not necessarily related to a return of cancer, and that, in any case, the solution would not be a simple nutritional supplement.

“Making a diagnosis of an endocrine disorder can be extremely difficult,” said Lustig, a representative for the Endocrine Society.

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