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Steve Jobs regretted cancer surgery delay, biographer says

October 20, 2011|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times / for the Booster Shots blog
  • Walter Isaacson's authorized biography of Steve Jobs comes out on Oct. 24.
Walter Isaacson's authorized biography of Steve Jobs comes out on… (Paul Sakuma / Associated…)

Steve Jobs, who died of pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer earlier this month, did not allow doctors to perform what could have been potentially life-saving surgery for nine months, according to the former Apple chief executive's biographer Walter Isaacson.

Isaacson told "60 Minutes" that Jobs was "regretful" about the decision to pursue alternative therapies instead of immediately going under the knife, according to a preview clip.

"He tries to treat it with diet, he goes to spritualists, he goes to various ways of doing it macribiotically -- and he doesn't get an operation," Isaacson recalled.

Looking for what are termed alternative, complementary therapies is not unusual, said Dr. Jack Jacoub, a medical oncologist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley.

"It's quite common, I have to tell you -- and very distressing," said Jacoub, who added that many of his patients try out a wide range of such therapies. "To actually shun conventional medicine and do these untested, unfounded forms of treatment is really doing a disservice to the patient."

As for why the man behind the iPhone avoided surgery, "He said, 'I didn't want my body to be opened.... I didn't want to be violated in that way,' " Isaacson said in the interview, set to air Sunday at 7 p.m Eastern and Pacific.

Such reluctance is understandable, Jacoub said.

"Going under the knife is very scary," he said. "It's a natural human response."

That said, the oncologist added, "Most people, when you say they have cancer, they say, 'Can we cut it out?' And that's the right question."

As for whether the nine-month delay would have made the difference between recovery and death on this rare, typically slow-moving form of pancreatic cancer, Jacoub said it was somewhat unlikely -- unless the tumor in the pancreas had already been near the verge of becoming inoperable when the option of surgery first came up.

"I personally would find it a bit difficult to say a nine-month delay made the difference, but yes, it's possible," Jacoub said.

Regardless, putting off this kind of surgery is generally not a good idea, he added, because "if you delay the time to definitive therapy, your outcomes are worse. Six months, 12 months, 18 months -- that gives time for the cancer cells to spread outside the primary site."

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.

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