Pancreatic cancer in spotlight after Steve Jobs' resignation

Apple CEO Steve Jobs: Is succession plan in the works?

(CBS) Steve Jobs' resignation as Apple's CEO Wednesday has fueled speculation about the computer visionary's health. One thing's for sure: fighting a rare pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor of the sort Jobs has acknowledged having is complicated business.

"People can co-exist with this disease for years," Dr. Richard Goldberg, a neuroendocrine tumor expert at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who has not treated Jobs, told USA Today. But things can take a turn for the worse if the liver begins to fail. "People can go downhill pretty quickly," Goldberg said. "When you hit the wall, you hit the wall."

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor are generally more curable than more common types of pancreatic cancer where patients often live less than a year, Dr. Margaret Tempero, a pancreatic cancer expert at the University of California-San Francisco, told USA Today.

Treatment options vary but include chemotherapy, and hormone therapy, surgery to remove the tumor or surrounding tissue, and a liver transplant if necessary.

Jobs underwent a liver transplant in 2009 while on a medical leave from Apple, CBS News reported.

Liver transplants for neuroendocrine tumors are "occasionally successful, but it's a real long shot," Tempero said. Up to 80 percent of patients who get liver transplants to treat this type of cancer live for at least five years, Reuters reported.

Dr. Simon Lo, director of pancreatic and biliary diseases at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told Reuters, that the most likely serious complication from a liver transplant would be that it inadvertently furthers the cancer's spread. Lo said immunosuppressant drugs, typically given to transplant patients, may hinder the body's ability to fight cancer if it returns.

"Whenever you put patients on immunosuppressant medications, there's always a risk that it could take away natural resistance, so the cancer could grow faster," he said.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital has more on pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.