January 17th, 2011
02:31 PM ET
Apple mogul Steve Jobs’ latest medical leave set off more questions about the world’s most famous tech CEO’s health issues.
In typical, tight-lipped fashion, Jobs, 55, released little detail in a three-paragraph letter to Apple employees.
For years, Jobs’ health has been the subject of speculation and worry due to how directly the company's success appears to be tied to Jobs.
So far, no information been released about his current medical issue.
Doctors who are not affiliated with Jobs’ care said two of the major issues for patients who’ve had pancreatic cancer and a liver transplant are recurrence of cancer and rejection of the organ. But without any additional details, the cause of his medical leave could be anything.
In 2009, Jobs received a liver transplant. Transplant recipients have to take immune-suppressing drugs to help their bodies accept the new organs. These drugs also weaken their immune systems, which could make them more vulnerable to infections or a recurrence of cancer.
“It’s a fine balancing act,” said Dr. Amit D. Tevar, director of liver transplant surgery at the University of Cincinnati. “If you give too much [immunosuppressant], they could get early recurrence (of cancer). If you give too little, you could have rejection of the new liver.”
Tevar said a patient could have organ rejection anytime after a liver transplant.
In general, 70% of people who receive liver transplants survive five years or longer, but that depends heavily on the health problem that initially required the transplant.
In 2004, Jobs underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer, removing a treatable form of the disease– a neuroendocrine tumor, according to the Wall Street Journal. Speculation about his health resurfaced in 2008 after he appeared at press conferences having lost considerable weight.
He initially blamed a “hormone imbalance," but later announced a leave of absence, which lasted 6 months. During that time, he received a liver transplant. His operation was kept a secret until the Wall Street Journal reported that Jobs had received the transplant at Methodist University Hospital Transplant Institute in Memphis, Tennessee.
It was unclear whether his liver transplant was related to his previous cancer fight. But pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor tends to spread to the liver, said Dr. Benjamin Philosophe, chief of the division of transplantation at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
It is a persistent cancer because once it has spread to the liver, the cancers have a more than 50 percent chance of returning.
“In general, people with transplants are more likely to develop certain cancers such as lymphomas and skins cancer,” Philosophe said, citing the body's the suppressed immune system. “Almost every type of cancer has increased incidence in people who’ve had transplants.”
Philosophe said organ rejection tends to occur soon after the surgery, but it can still occur years later. Chronic rejection occurs in less than 5% of the cases. In these cases, the liver is slowly destroyed, leading to organ failure.
“For the most part, if someone is taking a medical leave, it sounds like they’re starting a battle with something that’s a tough battle,” Philosophe said. “It’s something planned.”
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