Steve Jobs and Alternative Medicine

I was truly sad to hear the news that Steve had passed away, for he was truly unique and has actually changed the world and made it a far better place, countless numbers of lives have been touched and moved by all he did. There is much I would like to write on that topic, but so many others have already done it, so I shall just briefly applaud a life that was truly well lived. He is quoted as having said …

“Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful … that’s what matters to me”

Now that he truly did do.

Here are some links of remembrance:

What is in many ways tragic about his passing is that perhaps it need not have happened so soon. When first diagnosed in 2004 with a cancerous tumor in his pancreas, is was a considerable worry because it has a poor prognosis, partly because the cancer usually causes no symptoms early on, and so can advance undetected and leads to a locally advanced or metastatic disease at time of diagnosis. Treatment usually depends on the stage of the cancer. However, Steve’s diagnosis was not so gloomy because he had a rare, far less aggressive type known as islet cell neuroendocrine tumor.

This is the point where things truly become tragic.

For nine months, Steve rejected recommendations for evidence-based medical intervention and instead opted for a special alternative medicine diet for which there is not one single jot of evidence that it would help. Why did he do this?, well perhaps part of what makes him unique is that he makes his own rules and has always resisted the idea of flowing with the tide and so the same traits that make him a great CEO drove him to put his own life at risk like this. Steve, both a Buddhist and vegetarian, was also skeptical of mainstream medicine.

Would those nine months have made a difference? We don’t really know, but what we do know is that if the tumor had been surgically removed earlier, then his prognosis would be potentially a lot more promising: the vast majority of those who have the operation survive at least ten years, so the probability is that if he had not delayed a proven treatment and gone down the unproven “Alternative Medicine” path, then he would still be with us today … now that makes me really sad.

Folks please … medicine is the stuff that has been proven to work, alternative medicine is the unproven and untested stuff, so stick with what we know works. Apparently when an Alternative Medicine treatment is tested and found to actually work, then they have a special name for it … that name is “medicine”.

In the end, I can only feel deep sorrow at the loss of Steve and wish he could still be with us. This all motivates me to continue to speak out against the peddlers of woo that thrive all around us.

Updates (8th Oct)

  • I botched the date of his initial Diagnosis, it was 2003, not (as I stated above) 2004.
  • There is a rather interesting article here (from 2008) by Orac where he writes …

What Steve Jobs needed was for a doctor to get in his face and give him a dressing down of the sort that Jobs gives his employees, saying: “I know you’re a genius when it comes to industrial design of computers, making technology products that people love, and running an animation studio. I know you’ll be remembered as a giant in the history of computing, digital music, and technology. Unfortunately, none of that means you know squat about medicine. Diet, herbs, and the other woo you’re interested in will not stop this tumor. Nothing will heal it except cold, hard, surgical steel. Moreover, it’s puzzling to me where all that critical thinking you put into designing computers and running your business went to when it comes to your health. But, hey, it’s your choice. You can gamble that your plan won’t delay your therapy to the point where I can’t do anything to cure you anymore. Or you can listen to the scientific consensus and have the surgery. Your choice.”

Of course, Jobs probably would have ignored it or even ranted back, but it’s something he needed to hear, and all of his employees and friends are too intimidated by him to give it to him straight.

  • A few folks have commented to me, “How could he be so stupid, I thought he was smart“. Make no mistake, smart people (some very smart people) can at times believe some crazy stuff, we are all prone to that. For example Nobel Prize winning chemist Linus Pauling became convinced that large doses of Vitamin C could cure cancer, despite the total lack of evidence. Peter Duesberg remains convinced that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary.

Update-2 (16th Oct)

Dr David Gorski of Science Based Medicine writes a long but very informative article all about this

One has to be very, very careful about making this sort of argument [that the 9 months of woo led to an early death]. For one thing, it could not have been apparent that it was “too late” back in 2004, when it became clear that Jobs’ dietary manipulations weren’t working. For another thing, we don’t know how large the tumor was, whether it progressed or simply failed to shrink over those nine months, and by how much it increased in size, if increase in size it did. Again, I hope that information will be revealed in the Jobs’ biography; such data would go a long way in clarifying just how much, if at all, Jobs might have compromised his chance for cure by delaying. Right now, we just don’t know enough to make even a good guesstimate.

So, is it possible, even likely, that Jobs compromised his chances of survival? Yes. Is it definite that he did? No, it’s not

I suspect he may be right, and so I need to consider revising my position on this topic. As with all his articles, it is a long read, but does provide a lot of insight (he is a deeply experienced and well-respected Doctor).

6 thoughts on “Steve Jobs and Alternative Medicine”

  1. Why are “medical treatments” subject to rigorous controls, requirements of efficacy, and review when
    there are “alternative treatments” available that you can fabricate, market, and administer without fear of repercussions. It is because we all support fraud as free market, and allow con men selling snake oil on television, radio, and print to market their insidiously useless cures. We forgive these thieves when they commit murder as well intentioned idiots.
    They are neither well intentioned not idiots. They prey on the sick and disabled and their families to enrich themselves by dishonest means. We need to require providers of “alternative medicines” to be subject to the same disciplinary action and legal repercussions we do the truly medical community.

    In memory of my sister-in-law who underwent homeopathic treatments for stomach pains that were ultimately diagnosed as pancreatic cancer and resulted in her death four months later.

  2. Per Wikipedia:
    Medicine – “Medicine is the science and art of healing.”
    Scientific Method – “[the] scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge.”

    Science-based medicine could therefore be termed as “using a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge into the science and art of healing.”

    What is the alternative to science-based medicine? The art and science of NOT healing? At the time Mr Jobs was undergoing his alternative medical practices, I lamented to my wife that it wasn’t going to end well. Sometimes I really hate being right. I’ve read and heard that the majority of patients with this type of cancer, that have the surgery, have a life expectancy of 10+ years. Steve made it 7, hence it can be said that his alternative failed him.

  3. Mr. Jobs, did have the Whipple procedure, but he waited… and tried alt med.. which I find sad, and as a nurse… I see all too often.
    In 2003 Jobs learned that he had a malignant tumor in his pancreas – a large gland behind the stomach that supplies the body with insulin and digestive enzymes. The most common type of pancreatic cancer – adenocarcinoma – carries a life expectancy of about a year. Jobs was lucky; he had an extremely rare form called an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor that can be treated surgically, without radiation or chemotherapy.
    As Fortune reported in a March 5 cover story, (“The trouble with Steve Jobs”), Jobs tried various alternative therapies for nine months before the tumor was taken out on July 31, 2004, at the Stanford University Medical Clinic in Palo Alto, near his home.
    “This weekend I underwent a successful surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from my pancreas,” Jobs wrote in an e-mail to Apple’s staff the next week. “I will be recuperating during the month of August, and expect to return to work in September.”
    What Jobs didn’t tell the staff was that the operation he had undergone had radically rearranged his digestive organs and would permanently change the nature of his health.
    Nobody who has a Whipple is ever quite the same.
    The Whipple procedure, named for Allen Oldfather Whipple, the American doctor who perfected it in the 1930s, is a complex, Rube Goldberg-type operation in which surgeons remove the right-most section, or “head,” of the pancreas – as well as the gallbladder, part of the stomach, the lower half of the bile duct, and part of the small intestine – and then reassemble the whole thing in a new configuration. The severed surfaces of the stomach, bile duct, and remaining pancreas are stitched to the small intestine so that what’s left of the pancreas can continue to supply insulin and digestive enzymes.

  4. Sarah, do you know what they call alternative medicine that is proven to work? Medicine. The author says that Jobs embraced an alternative medicine without “a jot of evidence.” I will allow that there are certainly experimental medicines and procedures that are still in the phase of being proven, but it doesn’t sound like that is what Jobs tried. It is also obvious that things found in nature can be medicine. What we know as aspirin is found in white willow bark. It is a shame when anyone goes with unproven medicines/techniques and dies when there are proven techniques that would give them a better chance. In this case, Jobs didn’t allow his tumor to be removed and it killed him.
    Source: Reality

  5. i disagree with you. medicines are sold to you by corporations. those medicines are nothing but natural remedies stuffed in a capsule. i worked at a pharmacy for a long time and saw people take countless medications they didnt need because of poor medical therapy management.

    and several times, the pharmacist informed me of natural treatments, including the same chemicals, that so-and-so could take instead. and frequently, if a person can grow the ‘medicine’ in their garden, there’s no profit, so there’s no testing.

    i think in some cases, perhaps in mr. jobs case, you might be right. but that is no reason to slander natural alternatives in general. just like when a particular medicine is recalled, found to cause more harm than good, or just found to not work, people don’t abandon ‘medicine’ entirely.

    this is off the top of my head and isn’t a very academic response, but your article didn’t seem to be, either.

    • those medicines are natural remedies THAT HAVE BEEN SCIENTIFICALLY TESTED AND PROVEN EFFECTIVE stuffed in a capsule. important distinction. you’re not just eating weeds and hoping it makes a difference. the important thing is not where the substance comes from, it’s the evidence-based proof that it treats the condition. no one is slandering alternative sources here, but it’s idiocy to ingest random substances that have no proven therapeutic effect when your life is on the line.


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