UNFORTUNATELY, MILL HILL TIMES HAVE REMOVED THE DOCTOR’S STORY FROM THEIR WEBSITE BUT I’M TRYING TO OBTAIN THE SCRIPT ELSEWHERE.
When I was undergoing my initial treatment and surgery I didn’t really have the knowledge I have now. I was initially treated by experienced Neuroendocrine Tumour (NET) specialists in an established NET Centre and I guess I felt comfortable with what was happening. In hindsight, I wish I had studied the disease earlier as I would have understood at the time what was actually happening to my body and more fully understood the treatments I was to undergo.
As we all know, Cancer knows no boundaries and even Doctors can succumb to his disease. Despite this, I was still surprised to read a story by Dr Michael Richardson from North Carolina USA. Diagnosed in 2011, he talks about his diagnosis and treatment for Neuroendocrine Cancer which is the basis of my blog. Although Dr Richardson was not a Neuroendocrine Cancer expert at diagnosis, he has been able to put his medical knowledge and clinical understanding to great use. Not only has he carefully interpreted his diagnosis and his treatment plan, he has also been able to explain the detail in a very understandable way – great for patients but also very useful for medical staff not familiar with Neuroendocrine Cancer.
This blog is to consolidate his patient story written in sections and as far as I can see it only appears to be published in his local newspaper where he is a guest contributor.
His story so far is written in three parts comprising a number of sections as follows:
Section 4 onwards will follow when I have it (if you like my Facebook page, you will see future updates as they are published ) – click here and ‘Like’
Thank you for reading
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Over the last few months, I’ve seen quite a few posts entitled “Not all Cancer is pink”. I suspect it’s a reference to the ubiquitous publicity that many women’s cancer related advocates, bloggers and organisations attract.
Those who use this phrase are perhaps concerned there is an imbalance and inherent unfairness in the distribution of support and are frustrated that their own cancer does not fare as well publicly? I share that frustration, however, I take my hat off to the battalions of advocates, bloggers and organisations who work very hard for breast and the various gyneacological cancers whether they push pink or not (and for the record, they don’t all push or even agree with the ‘pink’ thing).
I’ve even seen this term used within my own community – ‘Not all cancer is pink, some are black and white’. This is clearly an attempt to tie in the well-known ‘pink’ to the not so well-known ‘black and white’. Notwithstanding the potential for upsetting hard-working women’s cancer organisations and the fact that they do not have a corresponding ‘Not all cancer is blue’ article, I also think we might be missing a trick.
And here’s the trick which is my alternative view on where we should be focused – Not all Cancer is black and white and nothing in cancer is ever black and white. As I don’t want to indulge in‘Cancer Olympics’ (it can backfire), I’m clearly talking about the context of the phrase ‘black and white’ rather than the ribbon colours.
Let me explain my logic. There are two sides to most people’s experience or perception of cancer. Firstly, symptoms appear, a diagnosis is made, treatment is applied and if it works, the patient will hopefully go into remission after a period of time, normally 5 years. The other side is that sadly, some people may not survive the ordeal and that even applies to certain so-called ‘pink’ cancers (metastatic breast cancer for example). Clearly there are variations of my very simple binary explanation but these two outcomes are very common scenarios.
However, many cancers (including my own Neuroendocrine Cancer) are often silent, produce vague symptoms, are difficult to diagnose, treatment plans can be a challenge, most metastatic patients and many with other stages will never really be cured, and will need lifelong support (another challenge we need to focus on). They are extremely cunning and sneaky. Neuroendocrine Cancer has many ‘grey’ areas. Clearly there are also variations on this theme but with many scenarios and different outcomes.
Not all cancer is pink, that’s true. However, not all cancer is ‘black and white’ – some can be extremely ‘grey’. This is one of the reasons why I say “Every single day is NET Cancer Day“.
If we want more attention, let’s learn from other cancer awareness activities instead of attacking their colours. Lesson No 1 – they don’t use animals as icons because people won’t take them seriously.
When I was discharged from hospital following major surgery in Nov 2010, I knew I would shortly be commencing long-term monthly ‘somatostatin analogue’ treatment and had assumed Octreotide (Sandostatin LAR) would be the drug of choice. However, my Oncologist prescribed Lanreotide (known in the UK as Somatuline Autogel and elsewhere as Somatuline Depot). Technically this is a hormone therapy (it’s not chemo).
Somatostatin Analogues (Octreotide/Lanreotide) are mainstay treatments for many Neuroendocrine Cancer patients and their introduction is a very significant factor in the improvement of both prognostic outcomes and quality of life. Both drugs are designed to control Carcinoid Syndrome (but can be used selectively in other NET syndromes) and both have anti-tumour effects. Check out my Lanreotide vs Octreotide comparison blog.
Although I didn’t relish the thought of any injection in the ‘rear end’ every 28 days for the rest of my life, I admit to being slightly relieved with his choice. I had been reading about patient experiences with the alternative, mainly the needle length and the occasional problems mixing the drug prior to injection. Although Lanreotide has a similar gauge (thickness), the needle is a good bit shorter and is deep subcutaneous rather than Octreotide LAR’s intramuscular (IM) route. No mixing is required as Lanreotide comes prefilled.
If you’re interested in the science, please be aware that a somatostatin analogue is a synthetic (manufactured) version of a naturally occurring hormone which inhibits the peptides and amines that can be dangerously hypersecreted by certain neuroendocrine tumours. If you are after a more technical explanation of this process, you should check out my blog ‘Neuroendocrine Tumours – not an exact Science‘ – inside you will also find a link to a fantastic paper by Dr Eugene Woltering, one of the world’s top NET Cancer experts.
Following an Octreotide Scan, various areas lit up confirming the output from previous CT scans. It also confirmed new ‘hotspots’ for further investigation. This specialist scan confirmed I probably had working receptors to receive something known as a Somatostatin Analogue to help with combatting the effects of Carcinoid Syndrome (please note that not having working receptors does not mean there is no benefit of receiving somatostatin analogues). I was therefore prescribed daily Octreotide (self-injecting) whilst I was waiting for my first major ‘debulking’ surgery, This treatment did eventually lessen the main effect of the carcinoid syndrome, facial flushing. It wasn’t until after my first surgery that the facial flushing was dramatically reduced. I commenced Lanreotide on 9 Dec 2010 and I haven’t had a facial flush since. It’s worth adding that my Chromogranin A (CgA) blood test (correlated to tumour mass) did not return to normal until after a liver resection 3 months later. My 5HIAA urine test results (mainly correlated to serotonin levels) returned to normal prior to liver surgeryin Apr 2011 indicating the Lanreotide was doing its job! Somatostatin Analogue side effects are to be expected and most people seem to have different and/or greater or lesser effects than others. The daily Octreotide did not bother me too much other than some discolouring of the stomach at the injection sites (i.e. black and blue!) ….I’m more observant nowadays, so it’s possible I may not have recorded this experience properly.
If you read the UK patient leafletwhich comes with each injection, you can see a list of potential side effects as long as your arm. Neuroendocrine Cancer comes with many signs, syndromes, symptoms and suspicions, so I always advise caution and some analysis when assigning reasons for problems encountered. For North America, the equivalent instructions can be found here (Somatuline Depot). I don’t know precisely why (……. I do have my suspicions), but I’m always very sceptical about the criteria used to compile the list of side effects for any medicine. In my own mind, I’m fairly certain that people have existing symptoms or new symptoms as a result of coincidental treatment that are erroneously labelled under drugs during trials.
You can also self-inject Lanreotide but I’m not ready for that yet! If you do self inject, please note it the site is “the upper outer part of your thigh”. Check out the Ipsen leaflet here.
I think the injection site is very important and getting this wrong will worsen the side effects. For the Healthcare Professional or trained family member administration, the site should be the superior external quadrant but not of the whole ‘butt’, it means of the left or right buttock that is being used on an alternative basis. If nurses think the whole ‘butt’, they might be tempted to stick it quite close to the ‘intergluteal cleft’ – not advisable!
Although the patient leaflets are very clear on how to administer the drug, once the location is established, I always discuss the following with the Nurse before I receive the ‘dart’:
1. The injection should have been removed from the fridge at least 30 minutes before treatment.
2. Don’t pinch the skin, stretch it.
3. Put the needle in fast at 90 degrees, inject the drug slow – 20 seconds is recommended. As the drug is viscous, in any case, there is normally some resistance to a fast release.
4. Do not rub the area after as this action can interfere with the formulation of the drug.
My experience with side effects. People have different experiences with side effects and just because a particular side effect is mentioned, does not mean to say that everyone will be troubled – many patients experience little or none. For me, over 7 years, I think I can attribute the following to Lanreotide:
itching but only on the legs below the knees centred on the ankles – and nearly always the right leg. Occasionally, the injection site will itch but only for a day or two. I have a tub of emollient cream (almond oil) on standby which seems to calm it down. Note …… a little bit of me thinks there could be a connection with vitamin/mineral deficiency and perhaps a coincidental occurrence and this problem seems much less of an issue over 7 years later. EDIT- could have been Hypothyroidism – click here.
minor pain at the injection site but this only lasts for an hour or two and I believe this to be associated with the administration of the injection, i.e. if the injection is done properly, I don’t really have this problem except for a second or two as it enters. Once, I had pain for 10 days. In my own experience, the best and least painful injections are those done by trained personnel who are confident.
small lumps form at the injection site which is alternating superior external quadrant of the each buttock. You may occasionally hear these being called ‘granulomas‘ or ‘injection site granulomas’. The issue of ‘injection site granulomas’ seems to figure in both Lanreotide and Octreotide. Gluteal injection site granulomas are a very common finding on CT and plain radiographs. They occur as a result of subcutaneous (i.e. intra-lipomatous) rather than intramuscular injection of drugs, which cause localised fat necrosis, scar formation and dystrophic calcification. But no-one seems to know why they occur with somatostatin analogues.
I find that they are more conspicuous if the injection is done slightly too high which was my initial experience and they took months to fade. I opted to stand up for the first two injections and I attribute this decision for a slightly too high injection site. I now lie down which is actually recommended for the smaller and thinner patient. Although the lumps have reduced in size, I have not seen a new lump for some time indicating location might have been the cause. They sometimes show up on scans. This is not a new problem and has been highlighted for the last 10 years in academic papers. This particular paper is useful and the conclusion confirms this is not something that should worry patients too much. Read more here
fatigue normally within 24-48 hours of the injection but this is not consistent. Not even sure it can be classed as proper fatigue but it’s a ‘you need to sit down and fall asleep‘ feeling! When this occurs, it normally only lasts for 1 day before the normal energy levels return. Again, like the itching, this appears to be less of an issue today.
malabsorption. although the side effects of gastro-intestinal (GI) surgery and gallbladder removal can cause malabsorption issues leading to steatorrhea (basically the inability to digest fat properly); somatostatin analogues can cause or exacerbate existing steatorrhea, as they inhibit the production of digestive/pancreatic enzymes which aid fat digestion. Most months, I notice a marked but short-term increase in this problem normally within 48-72 hours of the injection.
elevated blood glucose. This is a new issue in 2018 but has been brewing for a year or two. The patient information leaflet for Lanreotide (and for Octreotide) clearly states that this is a potential side effect and also asks those who are already diabetic, to consult their doctor about monitoring doses of diabetic medicine. I’m working with my doctors to keep my blood glucose down to avoid becoming diabetic.
A few years ago, there was some ‘talk’ that somatostatin analogues were also able to stunt or reverse the growth of certain neuroendocrine tumours. Has this been the case for me? Possibly. I’ve had regular CT scans every 3-6 months and since two bouts of major surgery in 2010/2011, I’ve also had 3 x Octreoscans over the same period. I did once spend a day analysing 5 years of scan results looking for variations in size and concluded that there was a stable trend and potentially a fading of one or two of my largest liver tumours. I was reminded these two types of scans were not really precise enough to detect small millimetre increases or decreases and as there were other factors at play, there was little commitment to make this declaration. However, I did note in the summary of theCLARINETstudy, Lanreotide was associated with prolonged progression-free survival among patients with advanced, grade 1 or 2 (Ki-67 <10%) enteropancreatic, somatostatin receptor–positive neuroendocrine tumours with prior stable disease, irrespective of the hepatic tumour volume. In terms of its anti-proliferative effects, aninterim report from the CLARINET extension studysuggested longer-term Lanreotide treatment is well tolerated with ‘anti-tumour’ effects in patients with progressive disease. The final CLARINET open label extension studyreport additionally provided evidence for long-term PFS benefits of Lanreotide Autogel 120 mg in patients with indolent pancreatic and intestinal NETs.
There’s currently a trial ongoing in relation to Lanreotide and Lung NETs – read by clicking here.
I have my ups and downs and I do feel quite well most of the time. Most people tell me I look quite well too – lucky they can’t see my insides! Over the last 7 years, I’ve made some fairly significant adjustments to cope with my condition and maintain a reasonable quality of life – my monthly injection of Lanreotide is no doubt playing a big part.
Finally, please spend 5 minutes watching this fascinating video from Ipsen. It explains in easy terms how Lanreotide works. It also has a useful summary of the side effects at the end. Click here to watch the video.
I’ve just been enrolled onto a new service called HomeZone whereby the injection is now administered at my home via an Ipsen provided and funded nurse. Read here to see if you can also take advantage of this service.
In July 2018, I received my 100th injection of Somatuline Autogel (Lanreotide). I was very grateful to still be here so I thought it was worth a celebratory cake – injection themed!
I recently blogged about a well-known BBC political reporter who has a Neuroendocrine Cancer with a Lung Primary. However, in the usual media ‘double speak’ which can sometimes pervade the coverage of such events, he is said to have Lung Cancer. As I said in that blog, sometimes with Neuroendocrine Cancer – the devil is in the detail and you just need to dig to find it!
No sooner had I published this blog, when I was alerted to the broadcasting of a film about rock star Wilko Johnson who has the most amazing story to tell. Wilko is a former member of Dr Feelgood, a famous British R&B band who were pretty popular in the 60s/70s/80s and remain so today.
In 2014, Wilko was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and was told he had a year to live. One year later, a photographer friend Charlie Chan (who just happened to be a doctor) commented that he looked too well and was still doing his routine and fast-paced musical performance, that something was perhaps not right about this diagnosis. To cut a long story short, he was retested and re-diagnosed with a Neuroendocrine Cancer with a primary in the pancreas. However, it was a large tumour (the size of a melon) and the surgery was ‘extreme’ with a lower than normal chance of survival. He seems to be doing OK so far. However, the ‘double speak’ is also being used in his case as nearly all reports and news articles state he has Pancreatic Cancer.
Until I saw the film on BBC1 a few days ago, I hadn’t realised the film was even being made. The first half of the film is really about a man who thinks he is going to die and he doesn’t really have an issue with this – he misses out all the usual emotions moving straight to acceptance. He also decided to do a ‘final’ gig teaming up with Roger Daltrey (The Who) – you can watch this from a link below.
I suspect the film sponsors were totally surprised to be continuing the film to include his re-diagnosis, his surgery and the beginning of his recuperation (I suspect Wilko was more surprised though). Having now watched the full 90 minutes, I can say I enjoyed it (particularly the second half) but I suspect it won’t be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’. However, it gives an insight into the man himself along with his journey. Some of the music clips will get your feet tapping. A little bit of me wants to get to know him more as I hadn’t realised he is a bit of a philosopher (ex-English teacher) and an astronomer in addition to being a rock star and generally down to earth ‘geezer’. There are some good quotes in the film including “if the cancer is going to kill me, I don’t want it to bore me”. This probably explains his very positive attitude when told he would die and decided his ‘new normal’ would be his usual normal!
There is not a single mention of Neuroendocrine Cancer (unfortunately) and you can find it on YouTube by clicking here. (YouTube has a habit of deleting films so let me know if the link stops working). However, the film came out on DVD 11 Dec 2015. There might be limitations on playback in non-UK countries but WATCH THE TRAILER by clicking here
I have in fact had an online chat with Wilko Johnson who said he would help with Neuroendocrine publicity (not yet seen though). Check out the conversation here:
There’s also an interesting interview with Roger Daltrey (member of The Who and friend of Wilko). There is more detail of this “other” cancer and his recuperation but again the word Neuroendocrine is not mentioned. WATCH HERE
Here is the gig with Roger Daltrey, which Wilko thought this would be his last. WATCH HERE
Having watched the film, I now have more sympathy with Wilko’s position and there’s a bit of me thinking we might hear some more about his condition downstream ………..
23 May 2016 – two new clips to add to the story:
1. Newspaper interview 21 May 2016. Click Here.
2. Interview with Victoria Derbyshire on 23 May 2016. Click Here.