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An Endoscopy is a procedure where the inside of your body is examined using an instrument called an endoscope. This is a long, thin, flexible tube that has a light source and camera at one end. Images of the inside of your body are relayed to a television screen. Endoscopes can be inserted into the body through a natural opening, such as the mouth and down the throat, or through the bottom. The mouth route is more accurately called a Gastroscopy and the anal route is called a Colonoscopy (or a reduced version called a Sigmoidoscopy). An endoscope can also be inserted through a small cut (incision) made in the skin when keyhole surgery is being carried out.
During a routine 6 monthly check-up at the end of 2016, I mentioned to my Oncologist that I was experiencing what appeared to be very minor heartburn and that it was an unusual symptom for me. He called forward my annual Echocardiogram and also ordered up a Gastroscopy.
I received the Gastroscopy paperwork from the hospital for an appointment on 26 Jan 2017. It offered an option for sedation, either a throat spray to numb the area or a sedative where I would probably not know what was going on. My initial thought was the latter even though it meant a longer visit to the hospital with some other constraints. It also meant I would need to check the sedation to assess the risk of NET Crisis. However, having discussed this issue with the department nurse, I was persuaded to go for the throat spray – apparently 80% of people opt for this method. I just couldn’t resist the statistical challenge! There were many advantages to selecting this option including getting rid of the sedation risk, plus I could walk out of the hospital immediately after the 5 minute procedure. The sedation option meant that I would need to remain in the hospital for an extra hour to recover, not drive for 24 hours and be supervised by an adult for 12 hours.
My blood pressure was checked prior to the procedure and systolic was around 145, 10-20 points above my normal ‘cool as a cucumber’ figure. Clearly, despite my deceptively stoic façade, something was making my heart work faster!
I was really put at ease by all 4 people in the room, two nurses, an endoscopic expert and a technician. However, the procedure itself is not what I would call a ‘breeze’. The throat spray was disgusting and said to taste of rotten bananas but personally I thought it was more like rotten fish! For the first 60 seconds (total guess) I found myself wishing I had gone for the sedation but the next minute was better after I had stopped ‘gagging’ and was now breathing fairly normally. I found swallowing easy despite the tube and a nurse was also extracting excess saliva using a similar tool used in a dental procedure. I was also aware that my eyes were watering! The natural reaction of ‘gagging’ came back at least once but only for a second or two. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t scary at the time.
The procedure seemed to be in parts, he checked the oesophagus, pumped air into my stomach for a better view, sprayed some water (not sure why), took a peek in the duodenum which required an extra swallow from me, using another tool, he took a painless routine sample from the stomach lining to test for CLO (Helicobacter Pylori – a bacterium in the lining of the stomach that can cause peptic ulcers), extracted the air, and then the extraction of the endoscope out from the gastrointestinal tract. These endoscopes really are like swiss army knives!
The best bit was the extraction! The other best bit was when he told me there were no real issues. So it was all worth it in the end! If anyone wants a copy of my comprehensive and easy to read 6 page Gastroscopy guide, let me know.
The other main type of Endoscopy is the Colonoscopy which enters the gastrointestinal tract in the opposite direction. I’ve had actually both a Gastroscopy and Colonoscopy before in 2008 before I was diagnosed. I offered the mandatory request to do the endoscopy first if using the same scope 🙂 He’d heard it before! On this occasion I was fully sedated. One minute I was talking to the Gastroenterologist, then the next thing I remember was waking up, job done. Less stressful but more time intensive. That said, the preparation for the colonoscopy is no joke. You can read about this in my blog Colonoscopy Comedy which also includes a light-hearted story about the preparation phase. If you need a laugh, this is really funny.
Although I have not had these, for completeness, I want to mention several associated procedures.
Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS)
For patients who have, or who are suspected of having pancreatic disease, their doctor may recommend that they undergo a type of procedure called an endoscopic ultrasound, or more often known as EUS. An EUS is a type of endoscopic examination. It involves the insertion of a thin tube into the mouth and down into the stomach and the first part of the small intestine. At the tip of the tube is a small ultrasound probe that emits sound waves. These sound waves bounce off of the surrounding structures, such as the stomach, small intestine, pancreas, bile ducts, and liver. These sound waves are then recaptured by the probe and converted into black and white images that are then interpreted by your doctor. Because the pancreas sits next to the stomach and small intestine, EUS allows the physician to get very detailed images of the pancreas. This procedure is typically performed in an outpatient setting, and usually takes between 20 and 45 minutes. One of the advantages of performing an EUS is that pancreatic biopsies can be obtained at the time of the examination. These biopsies, often referred to as FNA, or fine-needle aspiration, can allow for your physician to collect tissue samples which can later be analysed under a microscope. Special needles, designed to be used with the EUS scope, allow the physician to insert a small needle through the wall of the stomach or intestine directly into the pancreas. This video explains better: Click here.
Shortly after I was diagnosed, this was mentioned as an option for me as my diagnostic scans were just showing a “mass” and it wasnt 100% clear where my primary tumour was located. It didn’t happen in the end. Capsule Endoscopy involves swallowing a small capsule (the size of the large vitamin pill). The ‘cam-pill’ contains a colour camera, battery, light source and transmitter. The camera takes two pictures every second for eight hours, transmitting images to a data recorder about the size of a portable CD player that patients wear around the waist.
Capsule endoscopy assists in diagnosing gastrointestinal conditions in the small bowel such as: bleeding, malabsorption, chronic abdominal pain, and chronic diarrhoea. Once swallowed the camera moves naturally through the digestive tract. Approximately eight hours after ingesting the camera, patients return to the Endoscopy Unit where the recording device is removed by the nurse, the images are downloaded to a computer and evaluated. The Capsule is disposable and will be passed naturally in the bowel movement.
A flexible sigmoidoscopy is a procedure that is used to look inside the rectum (back passage) and lower part of your large bowel (descending colon) and so is like an abbreviated version of a colonoscopy.
Bronchoscopy is a procedure that allows the doctor to examine your trachea (windpipe), bronchi (branches of the airway) and some areas of the lung. A short thin flexible tube with a mini camera built into its tip, called a ‘bronchoscope’, is used for this procedure. The bronchoscope is usually passed through your mouth or nose, into your trachea and bronchi. The doctor can then get a clear view of your airways. During the procedure, the doctor may take samples of tissue (biopsy) or respiratory secretions for examination. Bronchoscopies can also be used for ablation purposes. You may be interested in this award-winning biopsy and ablation service offered by the Royal Free Hospital in London UK – Innovation at Royal Free – Lung Biopsy and Radio Frequency Ablation Service
Thanks for reading about how physicians can take the camera directly to the sites of suspected tumours!
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OK – we’ve gone through diagnosis, we’ve gone through treatment and now we need to live with the consequences of cancer and it’s treatment. Not a day goes by when I don’t feel some twinge or some minor pain and I think ‘what was that?‘. Fortunately, many things can just be day-to-day niggles. It’s the cancer …. easy to say, sometimes not easy to prove. However, for Neuroendocrine Tumour (NET) patients who have had surgery, anything that seems like a bowel obstruction is quite a scary thought (I suspect this is also an issue for other cancer types). In fact, even before diagnosis, a bowel obstruction rears its head as it can be how the condition is diagnosed in the first place, i.e. pain leads to more pain and that can sometimes result in a visit to the ER/A&E which can very often lead to a scan and an incidental diagnosis of NETs (and I suspect some other cancers).
I guess this isn’t just a threat for those who’ve had intestinal NETs but others in the vicinity of the intestines could also have this issue – the abdominal cavity is full of organs all very closely packed together! Both the small intestine and the large intestine can become blocked and if it can’t be unblocked by non-surgical means, it can become a bit of a drama for the patient. Blockages can be full or partial so it can often be a tough call for the medical team due to the effects of the patient’s existing surgery including but not limited to previous surgical scarring (adhesions) and the impacts of the blockage surgery on the patient’s future quality of life. Clearing the blockage by non-surgical means is the optimum solution. The presentational symptoms and scans can give immediate clues. Although there are slightly different symptoms for large and small intestine (bowel) obstructions, the key symptoms of a blockage would appear to be:
Feeling bloated and full
Severe abdominal pain
Vomiting large amounts
Looking at some authoritative sites, the logical (and fairly obvious) decision steps seem to be:
Is there an obstruction or is the problem something else?
If an obstruction, where exactly is it?
What is causing the obstruction?
Are there any complications such as adhesions, twisted loops or hernias
In 2016, I had 3 bouts of constipation and I confess that a potential blockage did cross my mind on all 3 occasions. However, I was comforted by the fact that I had no nausea and/or vomiting which I suspect is one of the key symptoms indicating a blockage rather than just a sluggish system. Fortunately, on all 3 occasions, the matter settled following a few days of right-sided pain (RLQ). One occasion required lactulose but all three required patience sprinkled with a pinch of endurance! I have to say the lactulose experience was not a good one – fatigue, brain fog and general malaise …..but much better than surgery.
I’m once again making some adjustments to try to find the magic spot between stool frequency and bulk….. it’s really difficult and not an exact science. I’m suspecting diverticular disease might be playing some part as I was diagnosed with a mild version in 2008 spotted during a colonoscopy (a common problem when you’re over 50). Although that tends to be a left-sided problem, I remain conscious that my ‘new plumbing’ may not be the best representation of a conventional layout!
NET Patient Foundation are really good at producing cards and there’s one for this too!
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Neuroendocrine Tumor Drug in Trial – Cabozantinib (includes news on Pheochromoctyoma and Paraganglioma)
What is Cabozantinib?
Cabozantinib is an oral drug which works by blocking the growth of new blood vessels that feed a tumour. In addition to blocking the formation of new blood cells in tumours, Cabozantinib also blocks pathways that may be responsible for allowing cancers cells to become resistant to other “anti-angiogenic” drugs. It is a type of drug called a growth blocker. Cabozantinib has been studied or is already in research studies as a possible treatment for various types of cancer, including prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, brain cancer, thyroid cancer, lung cancer, and kidney cancer. During my research, I found that it has a connection to Medullary Thyroid Cancer (MTC) which is a type of Neuroendocrine Cancer, frequently associated with Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN). Cabozantinib, under the brand name of ‘Cometriq’ was approved by the FDA in 2012 for use in MTC. Read more about Cometriq here. It’s also been approved by the FDA for advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC) (branded as Cabometyx). I also discovered that there is an exclusive licensing Agreement with the manufacturers (Elelixis) and Ipsen (of Lanreotide fame) to commercialize and develop Cabozantinib in regions outside the United States, Canada and Japan
Growth blockers are a type of biological therapy and include tyrosine kinase inhibitors, proteasome inhibitors, mTOR inhibitors, PI3K inhibitors, histone deacetylase inhibitors and hedgehog pathway blockers. Cabozantinib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI). They block chemical messengers (enzymes) called tyrosine kinases. Tyrosine kinases help to send growth signals in cells so blocking them stop the cell growing and dividing. Some TKIs can block more than one tyrosine kinase and these are known as multi-TKIs.
So Capozantinib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor and is therefore a biological therapy and growth blocker just like Everolimus (Afinitor) and Sunitinib (Sutent). Very technical process but in the simplest of terms, Cabozantinib is designed to disrupt the actions of VEGF (a growth factor) and MET (a growth factor receptor) which promote spread of cancerous cells through the growth of new blood vessels. Whilst we are on this subject, please note Everolimus (Afinitor) is an mTOR inhibitor and Sunitinib (Sutent) is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor. Many people think these drugs are a type of chemo – that is incorrect, these are targeted biological therapies. See more on this by clicking here.
What is the current trial status of Capozantinib?
It’s currently in an ‘Open-Label’ ongoing Phase II Study but is not currently recruiting participants. According to the documentation below, a Phase III trial is in development. The results of the Phase II trial have been presented to both European and US conferences, including NANETS 2017. The trial is currently confined to Massachusetts in the US in two Boston hospitals (Massachusetts General and Dana-Farber). Dr Jennifer Chan is involved with some input from Dr Matthew Kulke – both known NET specialists. The primary study (final data) is scheduled for Oct 2018 with a projected study end date of Apr 2022.
According to the trial documentation and informed comment on the trial data to date, the drug targets both Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumours (pNETs) and mainstream GI types (e.g. small intestine, appendix, lung, rectum and others). However, these tumours are described as “locally unresectable or metastatic, histologically-confirmed, carcinoid (sic) or pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor. Tumors must be considered well- or moderately differentiated (see article). Patients with poorly differentiated neuroendocrine carcinoma or cell carcinoma are excluded from the study”.
(Author’s note – this is an old trial document and the term “moderately differentiated has been phased out since publication).
You can read the trial documentation by clicking here. The drug also has a temporary short name of XL184.
- Poster submission for 2017 Gastrointestinal Cancer Symposium
- Onc Live output from the 2017 Gastrointestinal Cancer Symposium
- Output from NANETS 2017
- A funded piece of research by the NET Research Foundation – check it out here – looks like they are trying to figure out what patients might benefit from Cabozantinib using biomarker data to predict response.
UPDATED 2018 – There’s also another trial focussed on unresectable metastatic Pheochromocytomas and Paragangliomas
A Phase 2 Study to Evaluate the Effects of Cabozantinib in Patients with Unresectable Metastatic Pheochromocytomas and Paragangliomas
BOSTON — Cabozantinib (Cabometyx) may benefit patients with malignant pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas, according to results of a phase II trial presented here.
Patients receiving cabozantinib (Cometriq) treatment experienced notable tumor shrinkage in the lymph nodes, liver, and lung metastases, according to Camilo Jimenez, MD, of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and colleagues.
Additionally, progression-free survival significantly increased after treated to 12.1 months (range 0.9-28) compared with just 3.2 months prior to treatment, they reported at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) annual meeting.
Cabozantinib treatment was also tied to an improvement in blood pressure and performance status, as well as remission of diabetes among these patients.
“Malignant pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas are frequently characterized by an excessive secretion of catecholamines. [Patients] have a large tumor burden and they have a decreased overall survival,” explained Jimenez. “Tumors are frequently very vascular and frequently associated with bone metastases. In fact, up to 20% of patients who have malignancy of pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas may have predominant bone metastases.”
He added that “an interesting aspect of this tumor is that C-MET receptor mutation have been found in occasional patients with malignant pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas.”
Cabozantinib is an anti-angiogenic tyrosine kinase inhibitor, which also targets RET, MET, and AXL. It is approved for metastatic medullary thyroid cancer, and was more recently approved for first-line treatment of advanced renal cell carcinoma.
“MET pathway is also involved in the development of bone metastases. In fact, cabozantinib is a very effective medications for patients who have bone metastases in the context of cancer of different origins,” Jimenez said.
In order to be eligible for the trial, patients with confirmed pheochromocytoma or paraganglioma had to be ineligible for curative surgery, have ≥3 months life expectancy, no risk for perforation or fistula, and adequate organ functioning. Prior to cabozantinib initiation, patients could not receive chemotherapy or biologic agents within 6 weeks, radiation within 4 weeks, or MIBG within 6 months.
Following histological confirmation of disease progression >1 year according to RECIST 1.1, the trial included 14 patients with measurable disease and eight patients with predominant/exclusive bone metastases. Fifteen patients subsequently enrolled into the trial, six of whom had germline mutations of the SDHB gene.
All participants were all started at an initial daily dose of 60 mg of cabozantinib, which was subsequently reduced down to between 40 to 20 mg due to toxicity in 13 patients based on tolerance.
The majority of these patients with measurable disease experienced some level of disease response. Six patients reported a partial response, defined as over a 30% reduction, while three patients achieved moderate response, marked by a 15%-30% reduction. Five of the patients with predominant bone metastases reported disease stabilization, according to results of an FDG-PET scan. One patient experienced disease progression while on treatment.
Overall, cabozantinib was generally well-tolerated without any grade 4 or 5 treatment-related adverse events reported. Some of the most common adverse events reported included grade mild dysgeusia, hand and foot syndrome, mucositis, fatigue, weight loss, and hypertension, according to the authors.
Primary Source – American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists meeting – AACE 2018; Abstract 142. attended my Medscape writers
I generated this blog article to add value rather than just post the outputs for your own perusal. I hope you find it useful.
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Theranostics is a joining of the words therapeutics and diagnostics. You may also see it conveyed as ‘Theragnostics’ and these terms are interchangeable. The basic aim of theranotistics is to find and then destroy the ‘bad guys‘. With Neuroendocrine Cancer, finding the tumours (the bad guys) can often be a challenge – they can be small and/or difficult to find – they are sometimes expert at camouflage. Moreover, once found, they can then be difficult to treat (destroy), as they can often prove resistant to conventional cancer drugs and many are inoperable due to sheer quantity, spread and positioning. When they are found and identified, it’s also really helpful to know from the intelligence gathered, how successful the destroy (therapeutic) part of the mission might be. That is the beauty of theranostic pairing, i.e. the use of the same agent in the diagnostics – the ability to find, estimate likely success criteria and then hopefully destroy – or at least reduce the capability of the tumours and extend life.
A great example of an approved Theranostic Pair in Neuroendocrine Cancer, is the combination of the Somatostatin Receptor based Ga68 PET scan using NETSPOT or SomaKit TOC™ (US/Europe respectively) and Peptide Receptor Radiotherapy (PRRT) using Lutathera which both target NETs expressing the same somatostatin receptor, with PRRT intended to kill tumor cells by emitting a different kind of low-energy, short-range radiation than that of the diagnostic version. As mentioned above, the Ga68 PET scan can give a reasonably indication of therapeutic success using PRRT based on measurements taken during the scan (too complex for this article).
Nuclear medicine makes it possible by using the same molecular targeting compound to create diagnostic and therapeutic drugs, which work as theranostic pairings. Advanced Accelerator Applications’ theranostic platform is based on radiolabelling a single targeting molecule with either gallium Ga-68 for diagnostic use or lutetium Lu-177 for therapeutic use. AAA’s pipeline now includes several theranostic drug pairings for oncology indications including prostate and breast cancer; and gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST).
THERANOSTICS – FIND
Newer imaging agents targeting somatostatin receptors (SSTR) labelled with 68 Ga have been developed, namely, DOTATATE, DOTATOC and DOTANOC. They are collectively referred to as SSTR PET.
The full titles of the 3 types are:
The main difference among these three tracers (DOTA-TOC, DOTA-NOC, and DOTA-TATE) is their variable affinity to SSTR subtypes. All of them can bind to SSTR2 and SSTR5, while only DOTA-NOC shows good affinity for SSTR3.
These agents have several benefits over In111-pentetreotide (Octreotide scan), including improved detection sensitivity, improved patient convenience due to the 2 hour length of the study (compared to 2 or 3 days with Octreoscan), decreased radiation dose, decreased biliary excretion due to earlier imaging after radiotracer administration, and the ability to quantify uptake. The quantification of the uptake can help decide whether a patient is suitable for PRRT. Eventually, all Octreotide scans should be replaced with SSTR PET. To confirm the advantages of SSTR PET over Octreotide scans, a study comprising 1,561 patients reported a change in tumour management occurred in over a third of patients after SSTR PET/CT even when performed after an Octreotide scan. Worth pointing out that SSTR PET is replacing the ageing Octreotide scan and not conventional imaging (CI). You can see the recommended scenarios for use of SSTR PET in this article published by the Journal of Nuclear Medicine
Ga68 PET scans have been in many locations for some time. Current excitement is focused on USA locations with Ga68 PET (NETSPOT) only recently approved (DOTATATE). Other countries/scan centres may use one of the other types of imaging agent.
Read much more about this scan in my detailed article on Ga68 PET here.
So SSTR PETs above have the ability to find and estimate likely success criteria for therapy. We are now in a position to move on to ‘THERApy’ – e.g. Peptide Receptor Radiotherapy or PRRT.
THERANOSTICS – DESTROY
Lutathera® (note the ‘THERA’ which makes up the brand name)
Europe Approval: LUTATHERA®(lutetium (177Lu) Oxodotreotide) is indicated for the treatment of unresectable or metastatic, progressive, well differentiated (G1 and G2), somatostatin receptor positive gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (GEPNETs) in adults.
USA Approval: LUTATHERA® (lutetium Lu 177 dotatate) is indicated for the treatment of somatostatin receptor-positive gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (GEP-NETs), including foregut, midgut and hindgut neuroendocrine tumors in adults.
For commercial purposes, the drug may be slightly different on a regional basis. For all intents and purposes it does the same job.
PRRT with LUTATHERA®
LUTATHERA® solution for infusion is a ‘radiolabelled somatostatin analog (SSA)’ comprised of a radionuclide (Lutetium-177) and a peptide (differs between Europe and USA)
- The relevant SSA binds with high affinity to the somatostatin receptors (SSTR) overexpressed in malignant neuroendocrine cells such as the ones found in GEP-NETs.
- Lutetium-177 is a β particle emitting radionuclide, with a mean penetration range of 0.67 millimetres in tissue (maximum penetration range of 2.2 mm) which is sufficient to kill targeted tumour cells with a limited effect on neighbouring normal cells.
The affinity for SSTRs and the specificity of binding ensures a high level of specificity in the delivery of radiation to the tumour. Before starting treatment with LUTATHERA®, imaging must confirm the presence of these receptors in tumour tissues.
As an example of how the drug is administered, please watch this short video from the European site:
Video courtesy of Advanced Accelerator Applications
Please see the following post for a summary of PRRT activity worldwide. Please note this linked article is not designed to contain a list of every single location or country available – please bear that in mind when you read it – CLICK HERE
I’m very grateful to the team at Advanced Accelerator Applications for allowing me to use their site for graphics and videos.
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A fairly common disposition of metastatic Neuroendocrine Tumours (NETs) is a primary with associated local/regional secondary’s (e.g. lymph nodes, mesentery and others) with liver metastases. Technically speaking, the liver is distant. However, many metastatic patients have additional and odd appearances in even more distant places, including (but not limited to) the extremities and the head & neck. In certain NETs, these might be an additional primary (e.g. in the case of Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN); or they could even be a totally different cancer. The worry with NETs is that the ‘little suckers‘ can sometimes make these surprise appearances given that neuroendocrine cells are everywhere!
Cancer doesn’t just spread through the blood steam, it can also spread through the lymphatic system. This is a system of thin tubes (vessels) and lymph nodes that run throughout the body in the same way blood vessels do. The lymph system is an important part of our immune system as it plays a role in fighting bacteria and other infections; and destroying old or abnormal cells, such as cancer cells. The lymphatic system also contains organs, some of which feature regularly in NETs. If cancer cells go into the small lymph vessels close to the primary tumour they can be carried into nearby lymph glands where they stick around. In the lymph glands they may be destroyed (that is actually one of the jobs of the lymph glands) but some may survive and grow to form tumours in one or more lymph nodes.
I also had the usual bulky chains of lymph node metastases in or around the mesentery that frequently appear with an abdominal primary (in my case the small intestine). These were all removed as part of my primary resection. However, I knew since shortly after diagnosis in 2010 that I had ‘hotspots’ in my left ‘axillary’ lymph nodes (armpit) and my left ‘supraclavicular fossa’ (SCF) lymph nodes (clavicle). These were found on Octreoscan but at the time, they were not pathologically enlarged – just ‘lighting up’.
In early 2012, 15 months after removal of primary and 10 months after liver resection, one of the axillary lymph nodes became palpable (signs of growth) and this coincided with a small spike in Chromogranin A. A total of 9 nodes were removed very shortly after this surveillance, 5 of which tested positive for NETs (Ki-67 <5%). As part of the same operation, 5 SCF left clavicle nodes were removed but tested negative. On a subsequent Octreoscan, the armpit was clear but the clavicle area still lit up. However, there is no pathological enlargement or pain – so this is just monitored.
I have a 3mm lung ‘nodule’, discovered in 2011. Apparently, lung nodules are a pretty common incidental finding with 1 per 500 X-rays and 1 per 100 CT scans finding them. This is monitored.
I have a 19mm thyroid lesion which was pointed out to me in 2013. This has been biopsied with inconclusive results. Although the thyroid is an endocrine gland, it looks like a non-NET problem so far. I attend an annual Endocrine MDT where this is monitored with close coordination with the NET MDT. Thyroid nodules are in fact very common and statistically, 50-70% of all 50-70 year olds will have at least one ‘nodule’ present (i.e. if you are in your 50s, there is a 50% chance you will have one nodule and so on). The vast majority will never bother a person while they live. That said, my thyroid blood tests are abnormal and on 20th March 2018, following an Endocrine appointment, I was put on a trial dose of 50mcg of Levothyroxine to counter the thyroid panel results indicating hypothyroidism. Levothyroxine is a thyroid hormone replacement.
Early in 2017, during my Endocrine MDT, a surveillance ultrasound spotted a slightly enlarged lymph node on the right side (measuring 9mm x 9mm) described as a ‘level 4’ node (a location indicator meaning the ‘lower jugular group’). The report was passed to the NET MDT for their consideration with the surgical rep on the Endocrine MDT recommending a conservative approach – the NET MDT agreed. I suspect that’s right, it’s still below the worry threshold, nothing is palpable (no lumps) and I don’t have any specific symptoms. There could have been a number of reasons for the enlargement and it might even be back to normal size on my next scan. Hopefully just a non-issue. All my issues have been left-sided to date, so this was interesting. That said, I did have an MRI last year to investigate pain and a swelling at the site of my right ‘sternoclavicular’ joint – subsequently declared a non-issue.
Life as a metastatic Neuroendocrine Cancer patient is interesting and efficient surveillance is absolutely critical.
You may enjoy my post “Living with Neuroendocrine Cancer – 6 tips for conquering fear”
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On paper, surgery remains the only potentially ‘curative‘ option for Neuroendocrine Tumours (NETs) but there are stage, grade and anatomical constraints to that opinion. Many people get ‘twitchy’ about the ‘C word’ but our most eminent NET specialists use the term frequently including in the major treatment guidelines.
I use the word ‘curative’ with some reservations because for many who are diagnosed at an advanced stage, surgery will not cure but will debulk or cytoreduce as much tumour as possible in order to palliate symptoms and improve quality of life. This is a big deal because NETs is one of a small number of cancers where debulking surgery can often provide a survival advantage for metastatic cases. One of the reasons it’s a big deal is because with more aggressive cancers at an advanced stage, surgery just might not be offered. It follows that surgery is most likely adding to the fairly decent NETs survival statistics, including for those with metastatic disease at diagnosis. More on this below.
That’s a fairly simplistic explanation on behalf of surgery. However, as we all know, nothing in Neuroendocrine Cancer is simple. There are always a number of factors involved and every decision can in some way be on an individual basis. There are guidelines for treatment of most types of NETs but ……. they are just that – guidelines. NET Centres and NET Specialists are encouraged to use these guidelines, for example, a European Centre of Excellence has ENETS Guidelines. There is a North American equivalent set published by NANETS and NCCN have a decent complementary set. The UK and Ireland guys (UKINETS) also published a set although many UK centres are ENETS accredited.
Whether to cut or not to cut (or watch and wait then cut if necessary) and the sequencing of treatments is a really difficult issue for NET specialists. I quite liked watching these two video clips and they cover this issue quite nicely including some interesting abdominal challenges in surgery from known NET Specialists – these short video sessions are highly recommended:
a. Risk Stratification and Management of NETs – click here
b. Surgical Considerations for NETs – click here
Surgery can sometimes be a tough call (……to cut or not to cut?)
It is an area where I have some sympathy for physicians and surgeons who sometimes have tough decisions to make. Surgery is risky, particularly where people are presenting in a weak condition, perhaps with very advanced disease, secondary illness and comorbidities. I also suspect age is a factor (I was surprised to find myself considered ‘young’ at 55). Physicians and surgeons need to weigh up these risks and the consequences of the surgery against a ‘watch and wait’ or alternative non-surgical approach. This would normally be discussed via a ‘Tumor Board’ or Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) meeting. However, and although imaging helps, the situation is not really 100% clear until the surgeon ‘gets inside’. Remember, all physicians and surgeons are bound by the ‘Hippocratic oath’ of “Do no harm“. Sometimes with NETs, it’s a tough call not only before they go inside but whilst they’re inside.
Surgery should be a carefully considered treatment (…..think before cutting?)
I read many stories from many different parts of the world and I also hear them from people who contact me privately on a daily basis. Some of them are perplexed why they are not receiving surgery and some are not entirely happy with the surgery they received. Many are perplexed by different advice from different doctors. I find it very difficult to respond to many. My most frequent answer is “ask your doctor” but I’m normally pretty helpful with the sorts of questions to ask.
One thing which tends to surprise people is speed – or lack of it! With lower grade NETs, the extent of the tumour (stage), its metastases, histological grade and secretory profile should be determined as far as possible before planning treatment. I like to remind people that in 2010, it took from 26 July to 9 Nov before my body saw a scalpel. With Grade 1/2 well differentiated NETs, you can often get away with that gap. Sometimes when you are diagnosed with NET, it’s a case of ‘hurry up and wait’.
Back to the guidelines, of course most people will probably fit reasonably well into the relevant guidelines flow chart. A very generic example here (not for active use please, your area may have an alternative based on availability of treatments etc):
If you search long and hard, you will find articles about whether to “cut or not to cut”. Not just a dilemma for NETs but also for many cancer types. During my research, I found there’s some overlap between this conundrum and the issue of “overdiagnosis”. By “overdiagnosis”, I mean the unnecessary declaration and treatment of something which would probably not harm a person whilst they live. This is a bit of a modern phenomena as diagnostic tools and screening programmes become more sophisticated and more sensitive …..something to consider with Ga68 PET scans as they are more widely used. If you search for ‘overdiagnosis’ you will see many articles, in particular (and as an example), with many Thyroid diagnoses. In another example, I read an article about Rectal cancer where the author suggested a ‘wait and see’ approach might be better for most. Worth adding at this point that many autopsies show up NETs in areas such as the appendix (…..more often than you think) – check out my article “Benign vs Malignant” and The Invisible NET Patient Population. When I attended ENETS 2017 and 2018, I heard many ‘experts’ talk about conservative approaches. However, I also heard many talk about aggressive approaches. Another term I see a lot is “one surgeon’s ‘inoperable’ is another’s ‘operable’.
Timing of Surgery (……to cut now, to cut later?)
Following on from the scenario above, timing of surgery can be another factor in a ‘watch and wait’ situation. I guess this might be something in the back of the minds of more cautious doctors when faced with a rather indolent and very slow growing Neuroendocrine Tumour. For some this can be a sensible thing – ‘kicking butt’ in a surgical context is sometimes the wrong approach. The worry is that if they are not a NET specialist, they may not fully understand the vagaries of neuroendocrine tumor behaviour (i.e. they all have malignant potential – WHO 2010/2017). We’ve all heard the stories of people being told it’s not cancer, right? Please note my blog Benign vs Malignant. However, you may be interested in this post from someone who is one of the most experienced NET surgeons on the planet. Dr Eric Liu talks quite candidly about the ‘timing’ of surgery suggesting a ‘watch and wait’ approach in certain scenarios.
Of course cutting now might actually be a pre-emptive measure. For example, if physicians can see a growth which is critically placed close to an important structure such as a blood vessel or the bile duct or bowel. Even if the disease cannot be cured, removing the tumour may prevent problems in the future by removing disease from key areas before the vital structure has been damaged or blocked. For example, my surgeon conducted a high risk operation on some desmoplasia (serotonin fibrosis) which had encircled my aorta and cava almost occluding the latter. There’s an excellent surgery pamphlet from NET Patient Foundation and I strongly recommend a read as it’s an experienced surgeon’s approach to surgery with NETs (actually written by my own surgeon Mr Neil Pearce!). Click here to read it.
One NET centre in USA has published very detailed surgical statistics indicating that surgical cytoreduction in NET patients has low morbidity and mortality rates and results in prolonged survival. Their conclusion went on to say “We believe that surgical cytoreduction should play a major role in the care of patients with NETs”. You can read the extract from this document by clicking here. Authors: Woltering et al.
Was Steve Jobs a smart guy who made a stupid decision when it came to his health? It might seem so, from the broad outlines of what he did in 2003 when a CT scan and other tests found a cancerous tumour in his pancreas. Doctors urged him to have an operation to remove the tumour, but Mr. Jobs put it off and instead tried a vegan diet, juices, herbs, acupuncture and other alternative remedies. Nine months later, the Neuroendocrine Tumour had grown. Only then did he agree to surgery, during which his doctors found the cancer had spread to his liver. The rest is summarised in my article Steve Jobs.
This is a difficult subject and no one size fits all. Treatment for NETs can be very individual including surgery. I guess you need to be comfortable with your team. I was lucky, in that I lived close to a NET Centre. I was referred to their surgical team once my staging and grading were complete and I was stabilised on somatostatin analogues (carcinoid syndrome under control). I realise it’s difficult for many but I always say to people who make contact, it’s best if you can be seen by a NET centre or an experienced NET specialist – at least be guided by one if not possible or practical. Personally, I think the surgeon’s experience in dealing with NETs is really important. But even experienced NET centres/specialists have to make tough calls.
You may benefit from my 10 Questions article which also has links to NET Specialists.
Thanks for reading
One of the very first words I heard at diagnosis was the word “Mesentery“. In the news today is the announcement that is now might just be a new organ following accepted findings from research conducted in the University of Limerick Ireland. I always knew it was something which held the small and large intestines in place within the abdomen so like many others, I just thought it was some kind of membrane type structure and I also knew there was some kind of interaction with the peritoneum, another word which I was to become familiar with.
This is an important area for NET patients as many will have mesenteric involvement in their disease. I’ve read reports of a primary mesenteric tumour although it’s mainly a site for secondary disease (metastasis). It’s no surprise when you consider the geography – the small and large intestines are inextricably linked to this new organ. There is pancreatic involvement too. The mesentery contains many lymph nodes (the main place for metastasis for small intestinal NETs and other types) and has important blood vessels adding complexity to surgery. It’s also a place where there’s likely to be fibrotic reactions (desmoplasia) from the excess release of serotonin which can also complicate surgery.
When I check my own records, I can see statements such as “mesenteric disease”, “bulky mesenteric nodes”, “further nodal disease situated on the superior mesenteric artery and vein” and “dense retroperitoneal reaction encircling his aorta and cava from just below the level of the superior mesenteric artery”. When I also look at the post surgical reports, I can see that I had something called a “mesenteric root dissection” which needed a “superior mesenteric vein reconstruction”.
So there you have it, the anatomic description that had been laid down over 100 years of anatomy was incorrect. This organ is far from fragmented and complex. It is simply one continuous structure. According to the article I read, medical students started being taught that the mesentery is a distinct organ and the world’s best-known series of medical textbooks, Gray’s Anatomy, has even been updated to include the new definition. Finally, so what you might be thinking? Here’s a quote from the person who led the work:
“The next step is the function,” Coffey explained. “If you understand the function you can identify abnormal function, and then you have disease. Put them all together and you have the field of mesenteric science … the basis for a whole new area of science.”
Thanks for listening
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Welcome to my second ‘community’ newsletter, the monthly summary of NET news in Dec 2016, views and ICYMI (in case you missed it!).
December was a particularly special month. For the previous 3 months, I had been busily working behind the scenes and on my various social media presences to put on a good show for the 2016 WEGO Health Activist Awards. This paid off and I won the Best in Show ‘Community’ category in addition to being shortlisted as one of 5 finalists in the blog category. The community award was special because it means we all won the award as a part of this ‘Community’. I’ve picked up a whole new bunch of friends outside the NET world bringing much-needed exposure to NET Cancer. I had a quiet week resting before I resumed normal activity and then a sprint finish at the end of the month took me over the magic 10,000 blog hits figure (and even more on Facebook). Stick with me because I really need your help and support and anyone else you know who can assist. The WEGO awards brought a significant increase in twitter followers.
A quiet month in terms of numbers of blogs. Due to the vagaries of Facebook inner workings, some of these may not have even shown on your timeline. So, ICYMI …….here’s a summary with links:
- My Nov Newsletter!
- A blog all about Carcinoid Crisis – potentially one of the most important pieces of information you need to know. Read here.
- My award announcement!
- First in a series of ‘spotlight on ……’ posts – this one on Pheochromocytomas and Paragangliomas. Read here.
- I shared an inspiration message with you – one that I received from an old friend. Read ‘Keep your light burning’ which had a great response.
- Confused about the difference between Lanreotide and Octreotide? This blog will help – it got a really good response and you can read it here. I also received lots of questions about the individual drugs which was great and shows the importance of this subject to patients out there.
Other News in Dec
New Audiences for NET Cancer. From Day 1, I said it was my aim to find new audiences for NETS rather than just share stuff within our own community. Two new openings in Dec to report:
- The exposure during the build up to the 2016 WEGO Health Activist Awards where I made the final in two categories continued into Dec culminating in the award win (you can listen to the announcement live here). I also featured in a radio show just before the announcement and you can listen to it here (start at 40.30).
- I’m ‘extremely’ active on twitter and I find a lot of my research stuff there. I also use it to support other conditions and it’s mostly returned (i.e. others help with NET awareness). There is so much on twitter that I could swamp the community Facebook site so I started a twitter newsletter via an app called Nuzzel which seeks out stuff I normally like. You can sign up for this newsletter here as I wont be posting it every day. Click this link and sign up if you think this is something you’d be interested in receiving.
Blog Milestone. My blog tipped over 200,000 views in Dec and it’s already accelerating toward a quarter of a million. Thanks – keep sharing!
Facebook Milestone. My Facebook page was 2 years old in Dec 🙂 Please recommend this page to anyone you think would be interested.
- Facebook – 3726. This is a key outlet for my blog – please encourage others to like my page (if you’d like to know how to use your Facebook to invite others to my page – let me know, I can provide you with a step by step approach) Please also join my 2017 awareness campaign event here (select ‘Going’)
- Twitter – 3524 / 2724 Follow me here @RonnyAllan1 / @NETCancerBlog
- Total Blog Views: 205,426
- Blog with most views: 6,643 NET Syndromes – Early signs of a late diagnosis
- Most blog views in one day: 1,175 on 2 Feb 2016. Why the spike? ….. “NETs – Incurable vs Terminal”
- Most blog views in one month: 14,222 in Aug 2016. Why the spike? …. “I Can”
Where did December Blog views come from – Top 10 countries (Dominican Republic seems to be a new source of interest):
For interest the 10 Ten Facebook followers by Country.
Thanks for your great support in December. Looking forward to serving you in 2017!
Hey Guys, I’m also active on Facebook. Like my page for even more news.