How alternative medicine may have killed Steve Jobs

When they first discovered the tumor in his pancreas in October 2003, his doctors told him an immediate operation was necessary, and could lead to a cure.

As first reported by Peter Elkind in 2008, Jobs decided to think different, declined surgery, and explored alternative medicine treatments for his disease.

Nine months later, in July 2004, the tumor had grown. Only then would he allow his doctors to operate.

Would Steve Jobs be alive today had he consented to surgery when they first discovered his tumor?

Without knowing more details about his case, such as the grade and stage of the tumor, it is hard to say.

However, Dr. Roderich Schwartz, an experienced cancer surgeon has said waiting more than a few weeks to take action on such a rare diagnosis “makes no sense because you don’t know what the potential for growth or spread is.”

Steve Jobs is not the first public figure to seek answers outside conventional medical science.

  • Steve McQueen (1930-1980) was probably the first modern celebrity to attract widespread public attention with his efforts to cure asbestos-related cancer through unorthodox treatments in Mexico, where he died.
  • Farrah Fawcett (1947-2009) and Bret Hudson (1953- ) sought unconventional treatments for anal and throat cancers, respectively. They even underwent treatment at the same German cancer clinic. Even after her cancer regressed following alternative treatments, Farrah eventually lost her battle with anal cancer on June 24, 2009. Bret however was declared cancer free after completing a conventional chemotherapy and radiation regimen.
  • Beastie Boyz’s Adam Yauch (1964- ) developed, and beat, cancer of the salivary gland. He attributes his success to augmenting his treatments of conventional surgery and radiation therapy, with becoming a vegan at the recommendation of Tibetan doctors (augmenting conventional therapy is technically called complementary medicine). Yauch’s introduction to Tibetan medicine came after converting from Judaism to Buddhism.

Steve Jobs, also a Buddhist, was reportedly skeptical about mainstream medicine.

While his uncompromising personality and dedication to unconventional-ism undoubtedly changed the way interact with technology forever, that same stubbornness may have also lead to his demise.

Arthur D. Levinson, Apple’s Director who is a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and a biotechnology executive at Genentech, along with other board members pleaded with Jobs to have the surgery. ”There was genuine concern on the part of several board members that he may not have been doing the best thing for his health,”says an Apple insider.”But Steve is Steve. He can be pretty stubborn.”

“Surgery is the only treatment modality that can result in cure,” Dr. Jeffrey A. Norton, chief of surgical oncology at Stanford, wrote in a 2006 medical journal article about this kind of pancreatic cancer.

While it was Norton, who is one of the foremost experts in the field, ultimately removed the tumor, Jobs decision to seek alternate forms of treatment, such as a special diet, among other alternative treatments could have been what cost him his life.

Dr. Roderich Schwarz (quoted earlier) says he is unaware of any evidence that a special diet can be helpful. “But the patient decides. If they believe an herbal diet can do miracles, they have to make the decision. Every once in a while you have somebody who decides something you wish they wouldn’t.”

Furthermore, to date, there is no evidence that indicates successful “alternative treatments” for Jobs’ form of tumor.

According to Dr. Edzard Ernst, an international authority on alternative medicine and author of the book Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine,How alternative medicine may have killed Steve Jobs

 There are far too many charlatans who manage to convince desperate patients to abandon effective treatments in favour of ineffective alternative treatments. This often hastens or even causes death. In my view, this behavior is outright criminal.

Could it be that Steve Jobs was so committed to the concept of “think different” that he was unable to “think clearly” until it was too late?

Is it possible that his need to defy convention left him vulnerable to alternative medicine practitioners in need of a major endorsement to validate their “alternative” treatment? Was their success more important than Job’s health at the most critical moment of his treatment?

Buddhist theories of medicine say the reason people get sick is through one of  “three poisons:” greed, anger and ignorance.

That’s like saying the iPad is made from earth, wind, fire and water.

Why would someone as technologically sophisticated as Jobs base life-and-death decisions about his health on ancient philosophy, especially when there have recently been more breakthroughs in cancer research than at any other point in history?

Perhaps Watler Isaacson’s new biographyHow alternative medicine may have killed Steve Jobswill shed more light on the medical history of Jobs’ tumor including details of the alternative medicine treatments he pursued.

Until then, we are left with the conclusion that Steve Jobs died just as he lived — thinking differently.

Michele Berman is a pediatrician who blogs at Celebrity Diagnosis.

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