Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Goodbye, Steve

Today the world lost innovate and entrepreneur Steve Jobs to cancer. If this wasn't enough of a tragedy already, Brian Dunning reports that the odds are Jobs would still be alive if he had gone to a hospital instead of a witch doctor when he was found out he had pancreatic cancer.

Dunning writes:

Most pancreatic cancers are aggressive and always terminal, but Steve was lucky (if you can call it that) and had a rare form called an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor, which is actually quite treatable with excellent survival rates — if caught soon enough. The median survival is about a decade, but it depends on how soon it’s removed surgically. Steve caught his very early, and should have expected to survive much longer than a decade. Unfortunately Steve relied on a naturopathic diet instead of early surgery. There is no evidence that diet has any effect on islet cell carcinoma. As he dieted for nine months, the tumor progressed, and took him from the high end to the low end of the survival rate.

Eventually it became clear to all involved that his alternative therapy wasn’t working, and from then on, by all accounts, Steve aggressively threw money at the best that medical science could offer. But it was too late. He had a Whipple procedure. He had a liver transplant. And then he died, all too young.
When something terrible happens, people like to blame the things they already dislike. I am no exception, but in this case I just happen to be right.

Edit: Dunning has since edited the post I drew the quote from to say Jobs adopted a magic diet from Dr. Dean Ornish, not a naturopath. This does not change my overall point, but does shift it from one form of alternative medicine to another.


  1. I've seen people attempt to defend alternative medicine in this case by, for the first time in their lives, appealing to logic. They point out that there is no evidence that it was Jobs' useless diet which hastened his death. And on that, they are right, even while I try to ignore the irony of the alt-med crowd talking about not jumping to conclusions without sufficient evidence. But where they don't want to go is to the fact that the earlier a tumor is caught and removed, the better the survival rate on average. If everyone did was Jobs did, survival rates would drop significantly.

    Also, speaking of blaming terrible things on the stuff we don't like, as much as I would like to blame a naturopathic diet, the link I used noted that this could not be confirmed. And in reviewing your link, it looks like the authors have edited their post, FYI.

  2. Thank you Michael, good catch. I put a note in, but I stress that this is the change of a minor detail. Jobs still delayed medicine for an alt med treatment.

  3. Indeed. Whether it was a naturopathic diet or some other alt-concoction, it was ineffective by virtue of being alt-med.

  4. Not all regular-ol'-medicine or alt-medicine practitioners are created equal. In the case of ND's vs. MD's, though the methodologies may differ, the same basic raw technical knowledge seems to be there after the training:

    I've seen several different ND's and MD's and I've not found one to be better than the other in general...depending on what your goals are (more on this below). Based on my not-inextensive personal experience, I now have three rules:

    1. A good diagnostician is a good diagnostician. They can be a little hard to find in both professions. If you find one, latch onto him/her like a remora on a shark.

    2. Right tool for right job: go to a good ND to maximize your chances that nothing will go horribly wrong with you in the long run, go to a good MD (initially, that is) if something does go horribly wrong. Remember, kids: ND for chronic conditions, MD for acute conditions. IMHO, breaking this rule in particular cost Mr. Jobs more than a few years off his life. Naturopathic treatments are generally effective over a longer time frame but also take longer, often much longer, to be effective. I suspect his ideological attachments to alt-medicine blinded him to the fact that he needed traditional medicine treatments first and foremost to buy himself the time needed to give the alt-medicine stuff a whirl.

    3. Work with an MD and an ND who are responsible enough, knowledgeable enough, and well, humble enough to refer you to their counterpart as necessary in accordance with Rule 2. As a side note, ND's seem to be _far_ more open to this sort of cooperation than MD's.

    By the way, I've deliberately kept the scope of this to one type of alt-med practitioner (ND), because there is a lot of alt-med nuttiness out there that I just can't defend. Anyhow, I felt I had to write this because your post seemed a little too blanket-dismissive of anything that wasn't traditional medicine and my research and experience leads me to think otherwise.