Steve Jobs, The New Face of Pancreatic Cancer

Steve Jobs' passing this Wednesday was a sad surprise to many. 

The iconic Apple chairman had remained quiet about his health. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004, Jobs quietly underwent pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor surgery. In 2009, he received another operation, this time a successful liver transfer. Jobs remained private about his health, even when he stepped down from his position at Apple earlier this year.

Despite all the mourning over the visionary leader’s passing, some good can be drawn from his death. Jobs’ early demise gives a human face to a host of anonymous, yet deadly, cancers.

A disproportionately high amount of research money goes to cancers with higher survival rates. Prostate and colon cancer (with respective survival rates of 88% and 49%) receive over $4,000 of research per death, while esophageal, lung, and pancreatic cancer, all with survival rates in single digits, receive less than $1,500.

Successful cancer campaigns tend to connect with the public. For example, the Susan Komen for a Cure campaign has ingeniously worked with Major League Baseball to use pink baseball bats on mother’s day. This makes breast cancer awareness a way to show respect to one's mother or the women in their life. This month, NFL players will wear pink in honor of breast cancer research. As a direct consequence of its creative awareness campaign, breast cancer, with its 81% survival rate, receives $13,452 of research per death.

Cancer survival rates are related more to preventative measures and early screenings than finding a cure. In the last two decades survival rates of breast cancer have increased dramatically, but no surefire cure to cancer has been found. The reason: More women are becoming aware of the signs of breast cancer and receiving inspections.

That’s where Jobs comes in. Pancreatic cancer advocates have tried to connect with the public to increase awareness. In 2008, a full page ad was taken out in the New York Times comparing the survival rates of various cancers. But without a face behind the disease, pancreatic cancer continued to be one of the least funded cancers.

Jobs’ cross-appeal to bleeding-heart liberal fanboys and cold-hearted financiers alike can sweep across a wide swath of the population, raising awareness of the stark reality of pancreatic cancer. Through his tragic death, Jobs can provide the reminder needed for many to educate themselves and help prevent more early deaths.

Photo Credit: indigo_girl