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Steve Jobs medical leave: experts speculate but Apple quiet

January 17, 2011 |  4:50 pm

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Apple and Steve Jobs. Walt Disney Co. and Walt Disney. Ford Motor Co. and Henry Ford.

There are few titans of industry who are as synonymous with their brands as these men have been -- and in Steve Jobs' case, still is.

Jobs and Apple are secretive. Little information is ever made public about products until they're nearly ready to ship to store shelves. In the past, even less information has been made available about Jobs' health issues.

So, just as people do over the next iPhone or iPad, they're speculating in the absence of information.

Jobs offered no details on his medical condition in announcing his leave of absence on Monday morning, saying simply in a letter to his employees and the public, "At my request, the board of directors has granted me a medical leave of absence so I can focus on my health. I will continue as CEO and be involved in major strategic decisions for the company."

Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook is taking over most of Jobs' duties during the hiatus.

Times reporter Thomas H. Maugh II spoke with medical experts Monday on what might be ailing Jobs, whom many see not only as the face of Apple but the most important factor in its huge success in recent years.

Maugh reports that medical experts told him that Jobs' medical leave could possibly have been sparked "either by an infection, a rejection episode related to his recent liver transplant or, most likely, a recurrence of his pancreatic cancer."

But the experts all strongly emphasized that their speculation was no more than an educated guess at this point because Apple and Jobs have offered so few details about his medical condition, as is their right in such a private matter.

"If we don't know more, it is all speculation," Dr. Heinz-Josef Lenz, a gastrointestinal oncologist at USC's Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, told Maugh. "But we worry the tumor is back."

Maugh added in his report:

Jobs' cancer, diagnosed in 2003, is known as an islet cell, or neuroendocrine, tumor.

That is a much rarer form of pancreatic tumor than the type suffered by actor Patrick Swayze, who died in 2009, but also a much more survivable form.

If caught early, it is usually treated successfully by surgical removal of the tumor.

However, the cancer frequently spreads to the liver, and Jobs' apparently did so without being initially detected. When doctors finally identified it there, "there must have been too many tumors within the liver" to permit surgical removal, said Dr. Gagandeep Singh, chief of hepatobiliary surgery at City of Hope in Duarte.

Physicians thus had no choice but to remove the entire liver and perform a transplant, which they did in 2009.

Experts told Maugh that Jobs' transplant two years ago would not have taken place if doctors were not confident all of the cancer had been removed.

Read more about medical experts' take on Jobs' past health and speculation on his current health in Maugh's article, Reason behind Steve Jobs' medical leave unclear.

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Apple's Steve Jobs to take medical leave; COO Tim Cook to fill in

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Apple CEO Steve Jobs appears in Palo Alto at the opening of a new Apple store on Oct. 14, 2004. The rare appearance came just after he underwent cancer surgery in July of that year. Credit: Paul Sakuma/Associated Press

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