Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive, fast growing form of the disease which often takes its victims within five years after diagnosis.
Tumours are usually located on the head of the pancreas - an organ that helps break down food so it can be absorbed into the body - where they can block the bile duct and cause jaundice.
Steve Jobs is believed to have died from a rare type of pancreatic cancer called neuroendecrine pancreatic cancer.Amber Johns, from Garvan Institute's Pancreatic Cancer Research Group, said this form of pancreatic cancer is slower growing and the tumours are less likely to spread to other organs.
Recent research has helped doctors make the distinction between high-grade tumours, which can grow and spread, and low-grade tumours in diagnosis, she said.
Professor Minoti Apte, from the University of NSW school of medical sciences, said the more common form of pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the western world.
"It's particularly devastating because it's got a dismal prognosis with a five-year survival rate of less than five per cent in a lot of cases," she said.
"There's many reasons, but one of the major reasons is that it's often diagnosed late.
"It can be associated with vague symptoms, so it’s often diagnosed late and by the time it is diagnosed it has often metastasised or spread to other organs."
Some of those subtle symptoms may include abdominal pain or just a general unwell feeling, Professor Apte said.
Depending the location of the tumour in the pancreas, sometimes there can be no symptoms at all.
Risk factors for the cancer include smoking, diabetes and chronic pancreatic inflammation, while studies are yet to determine links to other lifestyle factors like alcohol and diet, she said.
The average age of the cancer's onset is 65, and current treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
According to information on the Cancer Council of NSW website, 686 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in NSW each year and it is the 13th most common cancer in NSW.
The Cancer Council website says pancreatic cancer was until recently one of the most under-researched types of cancer in Australia, despite being one of the leading causes of cancer deaths.
"As a result, it remains almost as lethal today as it was 50 years ago," the website says.
One of the laureates awarded the 2011 Nobel medicine prize, Ralph Steinman of Canada, died of pancreatic cancer on September 30 just days before his award was announced.
Dr Steinman was named the 2011 laureate on Monday together with Bruce Beutler of the United States and Luxembourg-born Frenchman Jules Hoffmann for their pioneering research on the immune system.
His work had been part of an experiment to save himself from dying of the cancer.
As the BBC reported: "Usually, medical research proceeds at a glacial, thorough pace: cell studies lead to studies in small animals which lead to studies in larger animals, which eventually lead to small, highly-selective clinical trials in humans. But Steinman didn't have that kind of time.
"He did, however, have access to world class facilities, cutting-edge technology, and some of the world's most brilliant medical minds, thanks to his position as a researcher at Rockefeller University.
So Steinman decided to make his own body the ultimate experiment.
Donations can be made to the Avner Nahmani Pancreatic Cancer Foundation which raises funds for the Garvan Institute's research into pancreatic cancer.
More information can be found about pancreatic cancer here or on the Cancer Council website.