The 5 E’s (of Carcinoid Syndrome)

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Since my diagnosis, I seem to have been in a perpetual learning phase! What not to do, what not to eat, what not to read! However, early on in my experience, I came across a list of ‘E’ words (5 of them) which is a handy reminder for Carcinoid Syndrome patients, particularly those whose symptoms are not under control. When I say “carcinoid syndrome” in this article, I only mean the syndrome that is caused by what was once called “Carcinoid Tumors”, i.e. predominately serotonin secreting types which mainly metastatic cases where the well differentiated tumours are found in the small intestine, but much less commonly in appendiceal, very rarely in rectal (rarely even at stage IV), lung (more atypical and around 10%), and one or two other significantly less common places. Many pancreatic NETs claim they have carcinoid syndrome, but this is another rare place accounting for around 1% of carcinoid syndrome diagnoses (read here).  I just hope the doctors telling their pancreatic NET patients they have so called carcinoid syndrome were equally sure they did not have one of the functioning pancreatic NET syndromes instead.  There are many variations of this list, but this is my take! I suspect some of this also applies to other types of NETs and other NET Syndromes.  Another example of something invented for a good purpose but not given a wide enough description causing much confusion in groups. e.g. some of these could be applied to pheochromocytoma/paraganglioma and certain functional pancreatic hormonal syndromes (these are not carcinoid syndromes!)

Also, if we are talking about the 5 Es of “Carcinoid Syndrome” then it follows this only applies to those who have functional tumours in areas of the anatomy listed above.  That restricts it to those with liver metastases (although there are a few exceptions – read here and check the carcinoid syndrome entry)

On analysis of this list, it struck me that I was aware of the issues and their potential effects and I’m certain there is science to substantiate the content. These E’s are apparently the most common ‘triggers’ for Carcinoid Syndrome. Clearly, they are not going to have the same effect on every patient e.g. I have the occasional drink ofEthanoland I always enjoy it; I go for long exhausting walks as ‘Exercise’ and I always feel great after. I had dental treatment using Epinephrine without any precautions before I was aware of the risks …….. nothing happened! Before I was treated, stressful meetings (‘Emotions’) at work would make me flush though! As for Eating – well that’s another couple of blogs’ worth! Worth noting that many people without carcinoid syndrome will have reactions to eating but there are specifics that might need some attention in someone with carcinoid syndrome and elevated 5HIAA levels, mainly bioactive and pressor amines

The 5 Es are, however, not something to be totally ignored. In extreme scenarios, a severe attack of Carcinoid Syndrome symptoms could be debilitating and life-threatening and I’m fairly certain the list was compiled with this in mind. Some people are more affected by Carcinoid Syndrome, and this is not necessarily related to the extent or aggressiveness of their disease. Some people just react differently. An extremely severe attack of Carcinoid Syndrome can also be known as a Carcinoid Crisis which is very dangerous, mostly on the operating table due to the effects of anaesthetics – thus why many NET patients may be infused with somatostatin analogues (usually Octreotide) prior to, during, and for a period after surgery or other medical procedures. There’s a lot of excitement generated around the term Carcinoid Crisis but it is very uncommon. And some experts are even saying infusion with octreotide is not the right treatment (read more here)

I’m not saying the 5 Es should be ignored but NETs are a complex disease, and most things need to be read in the correct context. What works for some may not work for others. There can also be confusion surrounding the source of symptoms, i.e. are they syndrome or something else? This is why I believe NET patients need to answer some key questions when considering the risks associated with the 5 E’s:

  • Are you currently syndromic? If you are, then the 5 ‘E’ list is probably very good advice but interpreting the advice in the correct context remains important.
  • Are your syndrome-related biochemistry results normal (e.g. 5HIAA)? Normal readings (in range) tend to mean the syndrome is under control and many people who were diagnosed with a syndrome may actually be non-syndromic following treatment.
  • Have you had treatment or are having treatment likely to produce side effects which might be confused with Carcinoid syndrome? For example, surgery can be the long-term cause of diarrhea and other issues. Despite the role of somatostatin analogues, these could also be the root cause of certain reactions.
  • Do you have any other illnesses? If yes, do these other illnesses produce effects similar to carcinoid syndrome? e.g. asthma, diabetes, rosacea, thyroid disorders, vitamin & mineral deficiencies, malabsorption, gut bacterial imbalance. Sorting out the symptoms can be a jigsaw with a missing piece sometimes.

The vagaries of this disease will no doubt throw up some exceptions and additions. There will be patients who have no syndrome but have elevated biochemistry and vice versa. Additionally, there will be patients who have had surgery and/or are being treated with somatostatin analogues but will still be syndromic in varying degrees of severity.

The so-called ‘5 Es’ are as follows:

Epinephrine: This was a new piece of information for me, and I only discovered this as a potential problem when I started monitoring some of the USA Facebook forums. This does not appear to be that well-known in UK. (Note: it is now!)

Epinephrine (commonly known as adrenaline) is often used in dentistry mixed with a local anaesthetic. According to NET guru Dr Woltering, plain novocaine, carbocaine or plain marcaine are preferred.

However, according to a dental source on my site (also a patient):

“4% Citanest Plain Dental (Prilocaine Hyrocholride Injection) is also safe and Epinephrine Free. It isn’t as profound of a numbness and may need reapplying during a procedure. It is the common alternative here in the USA.
4% Articaine without Epinephrine is also available and is known to work better on Mandibular Blocks. Again, this is commonly used in the USA. It’s important to know what to ask for, not just ‘Epinephrine free’. Bring this up at your dental exam appointment, so that they will be sure to have it in stock. If you are unfamiliar with the office, schedule your appointment after they confirm that the proper local is in stock. Never use the term Novacaine as the generic term for dental anesthetic, this hasn’t been used in the USA for decades. Allergic reactions to Novacaine were too common. Lidocaine and Septocaine are the drug of choice. However, Lidocaine will always have Epinephrine. Whereas, Septocaine (articaine) has versions with Ephedrine and without”.

Always check that your anaesthetist for any procedure you may be undergoing is aware of your carcinoid syndrome.

The danger is not just with dentistry work. Any anaesthesia is risky. Check out my post carcinoid crisis.

For those who have standby ‘Epi Pens’, I did read the following statement, “ …….. one exception is the administration of epinephrine in the case of an allergic anaphylactic reaction (i.e. a bee sting), so it cannot be avoided in this case, just make sure that Octreotide (Sandostatin) is also available“. This advice is also extremely relevant to Pheochromocytoma and Paraganglioma patients who may be a high risk of “intraoperative hypertensive crisis”.

This is very individual. Certain foods or large meals can be difficult, particularly if you have had any gastrointestinal surgeries. I keep a personal diary trying to identify things that upset my system. I try to find some balance between what I know is good for me and also what I know I enjoy. For example, I found that very large meals do not agree with my ‘new plumbing’.

Personally speaking, I’m fairly certain the vast majority of my issues are related to my treatment (past and present) rather than being provoked by Carcinoid Syndrome, i.e. if I rush to the toilet after a meal, it’s not syndrome, it’s a reaction of my compromised digestive system. So with this in mind, I try to reduce those things but additionally strike a balance between quality of life and excessive and rigid adherence to some of the guidance out there (see below) – as I said above, interpretation and context is important. My compromised system cannot deal with big meals so I ‘graze’ most of the day and then eat a small to medium-sized meal in the evening. I’ve been doing this since 2014 and reduced my visits by 300% without any special or expensive medication.

In my blog Nutrition Blog 4 – Food for Thought, I’ve linked to authoritative sources on potential diet triggers. I’m not suggesting you cut out all of the foods on these lists (you won’t last long!). Some can indulge in those foods, and some cannot. For example, chocolate and caffeine (tea/coffee) are on the lists but I eat/drink those frequently (in moderation) and have no problem. It’s a case of testing things out. I like to describe my eating as ‘The Risk Management of my Quality of Life’. By the way, no-one is suggesting that a NET patient with carcinoid syndrome (and don’t forget this is only one syndrome of many with NETs) should stop eating foods high in the offending amines or are precursors to serotonin (e.g. tryptophan). They do not make tumours grow (a myth) but just make sure you adhere to the dietary restrictions for any 5HIAA test.

Stressful situations can cause symptoms to flare up. While it is difficult to avoid all stress (work, home, commuting, etc), it is helpful if you can manage or reduce it. Like eating, this is a very individual area. From personal experience, I know stress can exacerbate carcinoid syndrome. Before I started my treatment, I was regularly flushing in meetings at work (….. think boxing matches!). After my treatment, stress was definitely a factor causing increased bowel motility. I’ve removed a lot of stress from my life, and it helps. You may need to be ruthless in managing this aspect of your illness.

Exercise is extremely important for overall health and well-being, and I know quite a lot of NET Cancer patients who exercise regularly without issues. It can, however, trigger carcinoid syndrome if you overdo it – it is, however, like eating, a very individual thing. I take the view that ‘zero’ exercise might potentially be an even higher risk. Even a walk around the garden or gardening is exercise. When I was at work, I would walk to see people rather than phone them. Sometimes I walk to town rather than drive, it all adds up! I have evidence from my own exercising regime proving in my case that exercise can reduce the knock-on effects of some of the other E’s (emotions and eating) and/or the side effects of treatment – check out my blog entitled Exercise is Medicine. Those who are syndromic and/or have other conditions to manage are probably best to take medical advice on how much exercise they need to do.

Ethanol (alcohol, liquor):
Many NET patients have difficulty tolerating wine, beer and spirits (hard liquor). I was never a big drinker so for me it was easy to go almost teetotal. I do have the occasional beer but very infrequently and normally on holiday – I personally don’t get any issues with the odd beer but again this is trial and error. I really enjoy my beer when I celebrate my Cancerversaries. Also check out my blog Alcohol – the NET Effect


I’m sure there could be a 5 A’s to 5 Z’s list of things to avoid but as I said above, this needs to be balanced with what the actual risks for you are and if you’re like me, quality of life. If you read most Facebook closed group or forums, you will always find at least one person is affected by something which affects no-one else. Please note this article is just my own appreciation of these issues and I emphasise once again that everyone has different experiences. I do, however, think it’s important to consider any secondary illnesses, effects of surgery and biochemistry results (or indeed a combination of one or more of these factors). Everything in life involves some kind of risk management and if you are totally risk averse, then you are unlikely to have much of a life (or a diet!).

It’s not easy but my daily diary helps me assess trends and work out what things upset me more than others – I can then reduce or eliminate. You need to tailor your own advice perhaps with the help of a doctor and/or dietician versed in NET Cancer. I also have some related posts on the subject of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, malabsorption and probiotics – check them out as the problems associated with these subjects could potentially look like a worsening of carcinoid syndrome and lead to unnecessary worry and unnecessary treatment.

For most, Carcinoid Syndrome can normally be controlled by the use of debulking surgery and/or somatostatin analogues (Octreotide/Lanreotide). However, there is a drug called Teloristat Ethyl’ (XERMELO) which looks like it may provide supplementary treatment for patients whose carcinoid syndrome diarrhea is not adequately controlled by somatostatin analogues. It’s an expensive drug and comes with side effects so you need to be sure it’s your syndrome causing the problem before you commit to a prescription.

For an alternative view of living with the 5 E’s – check out this article.  Edit – now called The 6 Es! 

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5 thoughts on “The 5 E’s (of Carcinoid Syndrome)

  • Dr. Eric Liu told my group yesterday that Epinephrine should never be listed as an “allergy” by people with NETs (many do that on bracelets and medical cards.) If it is an allergy then medical people won’t use it at all. Dr. Liu says that it is a life saver during surgery when carcinoid crisis or other cardiac crisis occurs.

    • thanks Cy, Personally I never saw it as an allergy, more of a warning about the anaesthesia bit. To be truthful, I don’t really understand the wording of the life saver bit – it looks like you are saying that there need only be 4 Es?

  • Deanna Vickery, Mrs

    Was rushed into A/E two weeks ago with excrutiating abdo-pain. CT showed bowel-blockage due to adhesions ie previous surgical traumas. Now have to stay on low-fibre/low residue diet – which, as a biology teacher and nutritionist is, to me, the diet from hell. But the alternative…..
    Regarding foods to avoid: I’m adding to this weekly. Food additives are the worst eg fructose/glucose syrup and palm-oil. Why they have to put this stuff in practically everything? Even packet-soup has palm-oil.
    Life gets more difficult by the day…..
    Thanks Ronny for giving me a ‘sound-box’ to let-off steam. Feel better now 🙂

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