Did Steve Jobs Seek Swiss Cancer Treatment?

Experts say experimental treatment is expensive and possibly effective.

ByABC News
January 19, 2011, 12:44 PM

Jan. 20, 2011— -- Recent media reports have begun to shed more light on Steve Jobs' medical condition and the treatment he's believed to have sought overseas.

According to Fortune magazine, the co-founder and chief executive of Apple, Inc, who is currently on medical leave, flew to Switzerland in 2009 to receive a treatment for neuroendocrine cancer that isn't yet approved in the U.S. The Wall Street Journal reported Jobs also had a liver transplant that year.

Fortune said it learned about the unpublicized trip to Switzerland from former Apple director Jerry York, who died in 2010.

In 2004, doctors found that Jobs had a pancreatic neuroendocrine islet cell tumor, which is very different from the more well-known pancreatic cancer that took the life of actor Patrick Swayze in 2009.

"They are slower-growing tumors than typical pancreatic cancers. The survival rate for more typical cancers is much lower," said Dr. Alejandro Ayala, associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine.

"Some people have described them as cancer in slow motion," said Dr. Jonathan Strosberg, attending physician at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla. "Patients tend to live longer, even if it's in its later stages. The average survival is six years from diagnosis."

Neuroendocrine cancers affect cells throughout the body that secrete hormones. The tumors can cause the secretion of either too much hormone or not enough. They are relatively rare, but more and more new cases are being diagnosed, and experts attribute that trend to better recognition of these tumors.

Experts say the treatment Jobs underwent is an experimental procedure called peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT). It involves delivering radiation to tumor cells by attaching one of two radioactive isotopes to a drug that mimics somatostatin, the hormone that regulates the entire endocrine system and the secretion of other hormones.

Specialists who treat neuroendocrine cancers say PRRT is very effective, but because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't yet approved it, patients who want the treatment typically head to Europe for it.