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Dr. Ramzi Amri makes a stern case on the other Q/A site.

Let me cut to the chase: Mr. Jobs allegedly chose to undergo all sorts of alternative treatment options before opting for conventional medicine.

This was, of course, a freedom he had all the rights to take, but given the circumstances it seems sound to assume that Mr. Jobs' choice for alternative medicine could have led to an unnecessarily early death.

However, Dr. David Gorski argues the opposite, that he was a pretty much average case of that particular tumour.

based on this curve alone Jobs had a little better a 50-50 chance of living as long as he did (almost two and a half years). Unfortunately, he fell out on the wrong side of those odds.

Who is right? Was Jobs' premature death fruit of his foolishness, or of a very hard diagnosis?

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    The word "allegedly" in the quote is a giveaway that even the person writing it has no evidence that what he is saying is the case. "could have" is another indication of the same thing. Do we have sound information as to what treatments Steve Jobs opted for? If not this question is unanswerable. – DJClayworth Oct 16 '11 at 17:19
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    @Sklivvz It's not about whether the person is living or recent. It's that medical records, which are absolutely essential to answering this question, are not available to us. – DJClayworth Oct 17 '11 at 13:25
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    @DJClayworth - Unanswerable questions are acceptable here. Yes this probably is one but who knows maybe a member of the family will release something. – Chad Oct 17 '11 at 14:57
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    I think the fact alone that Jobs did first choose alternative treatment – and this seems to be uncontroversial, right? – demands that the question be answered with a resounding “yes”. – Konrad Rudolph Oct 19 '11 at 16:56
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    Any price for a psychic or bowel cleansing is overpriced. Even $0, because now those involved may claim their services were "approved by Steve Jobs". Like I said in my answer, if it's just a diet, who knows. But his biography rather suggests active (albeit temporary) support of quackery. Fall prey is precisely the right term. – user792 Oct 21 '11 at 18:06
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The main source of the meme seems to be Brian Dunning's skepticblog bost.

However, a more thorough analysis posted later basically cautioned to abstain from as categorical a statement as Dunning's.

The analysis is "Steve Jobs, neuroendocrine tumors, and alternative medicine". (NOTE: Upon further review, it appears to be a very close clone to Dr. David Gorsky's article OP linked, so it may have been an earlier rough draft of the same author, OR just extensive quoting by Dr. Gorsky since that article is bigger and appeared 3 days later).

I will provide his full closing paragraph (emphasis mine), but TL;DR is "We just don't know. it may have contributed BUT there is no proof at the moment".

If there's one thing we're learning increasingly about cancer, it's that biology is king and queen, and that our ability to fight biology is depressingly limited. In retrospect, we can now tell that Jobs clearly had a tumor that was unusually aggressive for an insulinoma. Such tumors are usually pretty indolent and progress only slowly. Indeed, I've seen patients and known a friend of a friend who survived many years with metastatic neuroendocrine tumors with reasonable quality of life. Jobs was unfortunate in that he appears to have had an unusually aggressive form of the disease that probably would have killed him no matter what.

That's not to say that we shouldn't take into account his delay in treatment and wonder if it contributed to his ultimate demise. It very well might have, the key word being "might."

We don't know that it did, which is one reason why we have to be very, very careful not to overstate the case and attribute his death as being definitely due to the delay in therapy due to his wanting to "go alternative." It's also important to remember that, as much of a brilliant visionary Jobs was, even brilliant visionaries can make bad decisions when it comes to health.


A pretty important logical step is shown earlier in the post. Though it's not a proof, it is pretty convincing:

That the surgeon opted to do a Whipple also tells us that there probably wasn't any evidence of metastatic spread of the tumor at the time. Otherwise, I doubt the surgeon would have recommended as huge of an operation as a Whipple just for palliation. Indeed, Whipple operations are generally done with curative intent and only very rarely done for palliation.

The morbidity is too high to justify doing such an operation when it can't save the patient's life. In fact, it's not unreasonable to infer from the willingness of the surgeon to do a Whipple operation that, as far as could be determined, Jobs' tumor was still restricted to the head of the pancreas and thus still potentially curable, even after nine months' delay.

Meaning, that it's likely that the cancer did NOT indeed spread as much as had been asserted during the 9-month "alternative treatment" delays.

  • If anyone's wondering why the post on Respectful Insolence so closely matches the post on Science Based Medicine, it's because DVK's right - the same guy wrote both. He just doesn't like making the connection too obvious, but it's apparent if you do some googling :) – Tacroy Mar 13 '12 at 20:56
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A summary of the new (currently unpublished) Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson on Yahoo Finance elaborates:

The book delves into Jobs' decision to delay surgery for nine months after learning in October 2003 that he had a neuroendocrine tumor -- a relatively rare type of pancreatic cancer that normally grows more slowly and is therefore more treatable.

Instead, he tried a vegan diet, acupuncture, herbal remedies and other treatments he found online, and even consulted a psychic. He also was influenced by a doctor who ran a clinic that advised juice fasts, bowel cleansings and other unproven approaches, the book says, before finally having surgery in July 2004.

Isaacson, quoting Jobs, writes in the book: "`I really didn't want them to open up my body, so I tried to see if a few other things would work,' he told me years later with a hint of regret."

Did Jobs die because he delayed treatment? Well, like Orac says, it's really hard to say.

Did he "fall prey to alternative medicine" as the question title suggests? Absolutely. This was way more than "I'm gonna try this diet, oh it's not working, I'll get the real medicine." At the point where you're consulting a psychic, you've thrown rationality to the wind and you're being taken emotional and financial advantage of.

  • Now the book is published this seems like a good summary except for one thing. It isn't obvious that Jobs was falling prey to someone else's ideas. He clearly made bad medical decisions which he later regretted but as much because of his own stubbornness which included a bunch of weird ideas on diet and healing. He doesn't seem to have been a naive or credulous prisoner of some alternative medical belief. – matt_black Nov 11 '11 at 11:02
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    @matt_black: You can be a "naive or credulous prisoner of some alternative medical belief" even if the belief originates in yourself. – user792 Nov 11 '11 at 11:24

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