Jobs' Liver Transplant Raises Questions

Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds up the new MacBook Air
Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds up the new MacBook Air after giving the keynote address at the Apple MacWorld Conference in San Francisco, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2008. The super-slim new laptop is less than an inch thick and turns on the moment it's opened. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The report this weekend that Apple CEO Steve Jobs received a liver transplant is triggering a lot of talk in the business world.

And it is triggering questions as well about fairness. Jobs certainly had the financial resources to travel and pay out of pocket for his medical care. He reportedly received his transplant in Tennessee, which has a median waiting period of just 48 days, compared to a national median wait of 306 days, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook spoke with CBS Evening News Sunday anchor Russ Mitchell.

Mitchell: We don't know the details of Steve Jobs' liver transplant. But in general, why would somebody need one?

LaPook: The liver is crucial - it cleans the blood and makes vital nutrients. There are two many reasons for transplantation: Liver failure because of damage from hepatitis or alcohol are the most common. But in recent years we're seeing some success with transplantation to treat cancer that's started in the liver or - less commonly - that's spread to the liver.

Mitchell: So what type of cancer are we talking about.

LaPook: I want to emphasize that the most common types of cancer than have spread to liver - such as colon cancer - are not usually treated by transplantation. But the kind that Mr. Jobs reportedly has is a very rare, relatively slow-growing tumor. And there has been some success treating this with transplantation, especially in Europe.

Mitchell: Mr. Jobs went to Tennessee to get his liver, perhaps for privacy, perhaps because there was a shorter waiting list there. Is there disparity to access?

LaPook: There is disparity, but it's better than it used to be. There's now a system where - in regions of the country - the sickest patients get transplanted first and you can't jump ahead of somebody on line. But if you have the resources to travel to another part of the country where livers are more available - such as in Tennessee - then you may have an advantage.