What ails Apple's Steve Jobs?

It's not entirely clear what is forcing Steve Jobs to curtail his day-to-day activities at Apple to recuperate from health issues.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
2 min read
Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduces new MacBooks in October, his last public appearance. James Martin/CNET News

Apple CEO Steve Jobs' disclosure that he'll have to take some time off to tend to his health did not clear up any of the mystery surrounding exactly what is ailing the man.

By any measure, Jobs has lost a lot of weight over the last year. He has only said that he is suffering from some sort of hormone imbalance that is preventing his body from properly absorbing protein and therefore is causing weight loss. The problem has apparently become "more complex" in the last several days.

Let's look at what we know and what we're hearing.

What we know

Jobs underwent surgery in August 2004 to remove a cancerous tumor growing on his pancreas. Usually, pancreatic cancer is a death sentence, but Jobs had a rare type of tumor known as an "islet cell neuroendocrine tumor," according to a Fortune magazine article from last year that Apple has not disputed.

That type of tumor is treatable by a procedure called the "Whipple," named after the doctor who invented it and much easier to pronounce than pancreaticoduodenectomy. During the procedure, part of the pancreas is removed and the rest of the surrounding organs are rearranged to keep the digestive process intact.

According to the University of Southern California, this is considered a relatively safe surgical procedure. However, there can be side effects such as mal-absorption, which appears to be what Jobs is suffering from, according to his statement on January 5.

In June 2008, attendees at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference were troubled by Jobs' appearance, as he appeared to have lost a lot of weight. Apple initially refused to comment on his health, but finally acknowledged the hormone imbalance in January and said Wednesday Jobs would take a six-month medical leave of absence to recuperate.

What we're hearing

Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Jobs' cancer has not returned, citing anonymous sources. It's not clear whether this is an Apple-directed attempt at damage control at this point, given that both the Times and CNBC have reported in the past that Jobs is "fine," citing anonymous sources.

Bloomberg interviewed a doctor who has performed the Whipple procedure, and he said it's possible that Jobs' pancreas might have to be removed entirely as a result of the complications. That doctor, of course, is not part of Jobs' medical team and therefore doesn't really have any idea of his exact status, but cited the possibility of removing the entire organ as a potential course of action in Jobs' treatment.

An Apple spokesman declined to elaborate beyond the e-mail Apple released to the public describing Jobs' current health.