I put them to Dr. Matthew Kulke, director of the carcinoid and neuroendocrine tumor program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Our conversation is below, but here’s my takeaway:
In fact, there has been very good news in the past year about the rare type of tumor that affected Steve Jobs, a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor. For the first time in a generation, there are new treatments available, ‘targeted’ therapies that differ from conventional chemotherapy. But like many other forms of cancer, the disease is still not curable once it has spread. So early detection is key, and there’s hope for improved targeted therapies in coming years.
Dr. Matthew Kulke: “I think the main point, and perhaps the good that can come out of all the publicity about Mr. Jobs, is in awareness of these tumors. Not everyone is aware of them, and early diagnosis and awareness could be very helpful in identifying people early, at which time they can still be cured. The other important point is that with recent developments, even for people where they have spread beyond the point where surgery is helpful, there are now effective treatments for the first time in decades.
(Dr. Kulke said he could not discuss Steve Jobs’ treatment specifically.)
There are really two different types of cancer that can arise in the pancreas. The most common is what people know of as pancreatic cancer, and that is quite a challenging disease to treat. What Mr. Jobs had is a more unusual type of cancer, which is a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor. And these tumors, we think, arise from the islet cells in the pancreas — the cells that make hormones. And they do behave in a different way from the more common type of pancreatic cancer.
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