If you want to strike up a friendly conversion with a Brit, ask him or her about the weather – we’re really famous for our weather conversations and they normally focus on rain or clouds! However, despite the famous British ‘reserve’ and ‘stiff upper lip’, they also frequently talk about being ‘under the weather’, a phrase meaning slightly unwell or in low spirits.
I find myself smiling at some of the conversations I hear in medical establishment waiting rooms, particularly the potentially long wait for blood tests. Here, conversations bypass the weather and focus on being under the weather! I thought I was a regular when I started to recognise people in the queue (line!) and their pill conversations. Statements such as “Yes, I just started a ‘blue chap’ ” (medical names are sometimes hard to pronounce). Normally followed by “I’m on that one too and I take it along with my yellow and white chaps“. Some people seem to be taking a veritable rainbow of ‘chaps’. Strangely, some people appear to be quite proud of how many ‘chaps’ they take. I tend to maintain the traditional British reserve and a stiff upper lip in waiting rooms, so I keep quiet (actually I’m just happy to be inside away from the weather!).
I might join in one day and I wonder if they would be impressed with my tally of chaps? I have a funny feeling my tally of drugs is nothing compared to some of you guys and hope you will comment to prove me right! I don’t think I’m proud to give you my list but here’s my ‘chaps’, some prescription, some over the counter:
Apixaban (Eliquis). To prevent a recurrence of pulmonary emboli (PE). Unfortunately, I had PE after my big surgery in 2010. 2 per day.
Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (Creon). Recently added, anything between 6 and 12 per day depending on what I eat. Check out this article on PERT. Check out this article on Malabsorption with references to NET dietitians.
Multi-Vitamin (50+ age). I’ve actually been taking these since a few years before diagnosis in 2010. NET patients can be at risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Check out this article on the issues and with references to NET dietitians.
Vitamin B Complex. This was added in 2013 to mainly tackle low B12 (despite my multi-vit containing 400% RDA) and it seemed to help with fatigue. Read more here.
Vitamin D3. This was also added in 2013 to tackle low Vit D levels (again, despite my multi-vit containing 200% RDA). 10µg (400iu). D3 is normally the recommended form of Vitamin D to take, easiest to absorb and more natural. Vitamin D3 is also known as cholecalciferol. Many people who do not live in sunny countries are probably deficient or borderline already.
Probiotic. This was also added in 2013 to try to offset some of the abdominal issues that many NET patients seem to have. I take a 5 billion dose and it seems to help. Check out this article with references to NET dietitians.
Omega 3. This is also something I had been taking since before my diagnosis. I think I took it for a couple of reasons, my diet did not really include foodstuffs containing Omega 3 and I was experiencing some joint pain in my hands. I just never stopped taking it. Dose size 1000mg.
Lanreotide (Somatuline Autogel). An injection rather than a pill/capsule. Quite a big chap! You can read all about my relationship with Lanreotide by clicking here.
Levothyroxine. One 50mcg tablet each morning. My blood tests are indicating hypothyroidism – check out my whole thyroid story by clicking here. All NET patients need to keep an eye on thyroid levels. Read why here.
Seretide and Ventolin. These are asthma drugs, a preventer and a reliever respectively. I hardly ever take the latter nowadays. I had mild asthma as a child, it went at 16 and came back at 35. I take 2 puffs of Seretide night and day. Seems to help. Ventolin seems to be only required if I have a cold or flu thing going on.
Of course, most people have lots of other stuff in the ‘medicine box’ ready for ad hoc issues as they arise (pain killers, imodium, cough mixture, anti-histamines, indigestion, etc etc). I could go on forever.
Please always consult your specialists or dietitian about the requirements for drugs and supplements. You may not actually need them. I only take my supplements after very careful consideration, in reaction to low blood vitamin/mineral tests and listening to what ‘NET aware’ dietitians say (you’ll find references in some of the articles above).
Warning: You should always think carefully about over the counter stuff (including online) as there’s a lot of ‘scammers’ out there selling counterfeit supplements. Always buy from a reputable source. With supplements, remember in most countries they are not regulated in the same way as medicines so it’s worthwhile checking they are compliant with regional food supplements directives. The supplements provider I use is actually approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) covering UK. I’m sure there will be similar approval organisations where you live. Also be careful of some claims about the miracle cure of certain food supplements. There are plenty sites with fake health news online (check out my article on this – click here).
You should be clear why you take supplements and try to consult with a specialist or dietitian for advice.
Finally, don’t forget to take your chaps, they should help you keep well!
I don’t look ill. I didn’t even look ill when I was diagnosed with metastatic and incurable Neuroendocrine Cancer. People have even told me I look better than many people my age who do not have an incurable disease! There’s a bit of me which is very happy with that predicament, although I’d rather look less good and not have cancer.
Many cancer patients have illnesses that cannot be seen, they are invisible. I know quite a lot of cancer patients who don’t look ill but I know they have a life threatening disease and things could change quickly. For example, some cancer patients who look really well can need quick access to facilities such as toilets as side effects can sometimes not only be instant but also painful. Some just need a place to administer medicine when they need it, often this occurs in the most inconvenient places. There are many other ‘invisible’ problems that might strike at any moment.
Some patients actually avoid going on long journeys (or even short journeys), some avoid social activities and simply remain at home because their illness is unpredictable – they become very risk averse. And they look really well! And it’s terrible they feel they need to do this.
I know some patients who are classed as ‘disabled’ because of their condition (I’ll use the word ‘disabled’ as a generic term because the terminology differs from country to country). I guess some of them don’t look disabled (in terms of people’s perceptions) and on the outside look pretty well. Many people assume that ‘disabled’ means you have some physical deformity which is wrong when you look at various health criteria worldwide. Within these systems, there is also the possibility of a ‘disabled car parking permit’ (again a generic term as it might be called something different where you live).
On the subject of car parking, there are huge campaigns in UK about car parking charges for cancer patients. Many hospital car parks are on ‘private land’ and fees are levied. I’m not classed as disabled, I wouldn’t meet the criteria. However, I’m a frequent visitor to hospitals for tests/treatments and appointments. I’ve spent a considerable amount of money on hospital car parking in the last 7 years. The hospital I attend only provides free parking for cancer patients who are undergoing treatment (something I didn’t know for the first 4 years of my treatment). So if I’m attending for blood tests, scans or appointments, there is no entitlement for free parking. A couple of years ago, I met with my local hospital about car parking for cancer patients and was delighted to obtain a free pass when I explained the sheer number of visits I was making adding that it was probably for the rest of my life. I’m due to meet them soon to enquire about further plans to extend the current ‘treatment only’ benefit for cancer patients. If you google this issue, you will see plenty of comment! I guess these issues are pretty common worldwide with some countries faring better than others. That’s to be expected.
However, what is totally unexpected is this story which I will now lay out. It’s a reminder that you have no idea what’s going on in people’s lives.
Lexi Baskin is a cancer patient and was attending her hospital to have radiotherapy, and has a ‘tag’ for parking as she is prone to side effects as a result of her cancer. She was legally parked in a disabled parking slot and returning to her car in Oct 2017, she found it covered in stickers – see here:
I guess that made her very upset. It makes me upset just looking at these pictures from afar. Lexi posted her story on social media and on twitter, her tweet went viral and so far, has been liked over 100,000 times and she is heading for 50,000 retweets (shares). Great awareness for invisible illness and the issues of car parking and perceptions. It even made the press – see below:
So, to whoever committed this cruel act – SHAME ON YOU! – you are a selfish and terrible person.
You may also enjoy these similarly related articles:
I look well but you should see my insides – click here
After 7 years of avoiding pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT), I finally asked for some on a trial basis. To be honest, for some time, I thought they were really only needed in the NET world for those with pancreatic issues (pNETs). I’ve always known I’ve had some digestive issues related to malabsorption. However, I’m not losing weight – this has been stable for some years. Plus my key vitamin levels (B12 and D) are in range. However, I’ve been struggling with a lot of bloating issues in the last couple of months, thus the trial. You know me, I like to research and analyse such things! I’ve actually written about a lot of these issues in my Nutrition series ….. so this is now ‘Article Number 5’.
Crash Course.We eat food, but our digestive system doesn’t absorb food, it absorbs nutrients. Food has to be broken down from things like steak and broccoli into its nutrient pieces: amino acids (from proteins), fatty acids and cholesterol (from fats), and simple sugars (from carbohydrates), as well as vitamins, minerals, and a variety of other plant and animal compounds. Digestive enzymes, primarily produced in the pancreas and small intestine, break down our food into nutrients so that our bodies can absorb them.
Some of the common symptoms of NETs are gas, bloating, cramping and abdominal pain and the root cause of these issues can sometimes be as a result of insufficient ‘digestive’ enzymes. They are primarily produced in the pancreas (an exocrine function) and the small intestine but also in the saliva glands and the stomach. This post will focus on pancreas and to a certain extent, the small intestine. There are actually some key tell-tale signs of a pancreatic enzyme deficiency, such as steatorrhoea which is described as an excess of fat in faeces, the stool may float due to trapped air, the stool can be pale in colour, may be foul-smelling, and you may also notice droplets of oil or a ‘slick’ in the toilet pan. Steatorrhoea is mainly (but not always) due to malabsorption of fat from the diet and this can actually be caused or made worse by somatostatin analogues which are known to inhibit the supply of pancreatic enzymes. Of course if fat is not being absorbed, then the key nutrients your body needs to function properly might not be either. The signs from that might not be so noticeable but can be even more problematic over time. Please see Article 1.
Those who have had surgery, in particular, in GI tract/digestive system, are at risk of malabsorption; as are those prescribed somatostatin analogues (Lanreotide/Octreotide) as these drugs can inhibit digestive enzymes, causing or adding to the malabsorption effect. For those who need to read more, see Article 2.
One way to combat these issues when they are caused by pancreatic insufficiency is with Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT) which can mimic the normal digestive process. However, this is not the whole story as there could be numerous reasons for these issues, perhaps even some which are unrelated to NETs. If you are in doubt about whether you suffer from malabsorption and/or any form of digestive enzyme insufficiency, you should consult your doctors.
Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy
Many NET patients succumb to malabsorption due to pancreatic insufficiency and are prescribed Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy, or PERT for short. There are various brands available (e.g. Creon®, Nutrizym®, Pancrease HL® or Pancrex®). Most are in capsule form in various doses.
How does PERT work? Most people experiencing the issues above are going to benefit from a multiple-enzyme replacement which tend to include the key ones such as:
lipase which break down fats (e.g from many different foods)
amylase which breaks down starchy carbohydrates (e.g. potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, cereals, fruits, fibre, etc).
The dose sizes tend to be based on the amount of lipase, i.e. a 25,000 strength would mean 25,000 units of lipase and (normally) a lesser amount of amylase and protease (it is with Creon). The entire mix of enzymes may be given a name, in my case it’s ‘Pancreatin’. You will be given a number of capsules to be used from your prescribing doctor.
The pancreatic enzyme capsule is swallowed along with food and digests food as they pass through the gut. If your capsules contain an enteric coat or enteric coated granules (delayed release), they should not be affected by stomach acid. The replacement enzymes will help to break down food allowing the nutrients to be absorbed beyond the stomach (i.e. in the small intestine). Do not be alarmed at the dose sizes, a healthy pancreas will release about 720,000 lipase units during every meal!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
When I first started taking the supplements, I thought of numerous questions, many of which I could not find definitive answers to! Different sites say different (and contradictory) things. Clearly, you should always consult your prescribing doctor and the medicine patient information leaflet. That said, I found the patient information leaflet which came with the capsules is just not detailed enough for an inquisitive patient such as myself!
I always like to refer to best practice which is why I’ve consulted one of the top NET Dietitians, Tara Whyand of Royal Free London. She agreed to an online Q&A session on 28 Feb 2018. This took place on my private Facebook group click here or search Facebook for this group “Neuroendocrine Cancer – Ronny Allan’s Group“. Join, answer some simple questions and then your application will be processed.
The output from the online with with Tara Whyand is below:
Thanks for attending the online event. Here is a tidy summary of the many comments. I hope this is also useful for those who were unable to attend.
Why would I need PERT and are there any tests that can be done to validate this?
“Somatostatin analogues, pancreatic surgery, pancreatitis and cystic fibrosis can cause exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). This means that the pancreas does not produce enough enzymes to break down food. It results in fatty loose stools called steatorrhoea.
Patients who have exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) require PERT (pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy) to break down food (fat, protein and carbohydrate). There are many brands of pancreatic enzymes, the most commonly used are Creon and Nutrizyme. Both have different dose levels to choose from.
The fecal elastase test was traditionally used to test the function of the pancreas, although it may not be that useful in NETs. This is because a NET team in Wales found that some NET patients who reported steatorrhoea had a false negative result.
Steatorrhoea may also be a result of bile acid malabsorption and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth which can co-exist and are common especially after surgery. They can both be tested for at a hospital.”
1a. Would the treatment be different for both EPI and bile acid malabsorption? If not how different?
“Yes BAM requires bile acid sequestrants rather than PERT”.
1b. would this be something you would take in general to help overall digestion and absorption of nutrients?
“No only if you have reasons for EPI to occur”.
PERT dosage. Is there a set dosage for all patients or does it depend on type of NET or surgery? And can I overdose on PERT?
“It depends on what you eat. PERT dose is normally tailored on fat content (the more fat you have, the more enzymes you need), but patients who have had a total pancreatectomy will have to have PERT for all food and drink (apart from water) as carbohydrate and protein needs to be broken down too.”
2a. “What about when taking medication such as Cholesteramine or pills in the morning and evening. Do I need to take it to absorb these?”
“see question 5”.
2b. I had a total pancreatectomy and was told I do not need PERT for fruit and veg?
“there’s carbs in all fruit and veg and often fat and protein too, so no different really.”
Some sources say to take the capsules at the beginning of a meal, some say it’s also at the end of a meal is also OK. How critical is this?
“You must always take the capsules at the beginning of the meal and if the meal goes on longer than ~30 minutes, or there are several courses, you will need to have another capsule/tablet/scoop of enzymes. If you don’t, food will pass by the pancreas undigested and ‘malabsorption occurs. This leads to fatty stools (steatorrhoea), fat soluble vitamin deficiency and weight loss. Unbroken down food can also feed bacteria and you can develop small intestinal bacterial overgrowth as a result.”
3a. so if my oncologist says to take four capsules per meal, then I should take all four at the same time?
“see question 11”
3b. if you have had a total gastrectomy (total removal of the stomach), is there a different procedure for taking PERT? I am on Creon and have heard that perhaps I need to open up the capsules as I can not break down the gelatin casing. Not sure if this is true or not.
“See question 11”
What is a meal? Is it multiple courses, or is there a strategy for each individual course? What about snacks? (i.e. a single biscuit with a cup of tea)
“The standard starting dose for snacks: 22-25,000 units lipase, titrating up when symptoms have not resolved. Most people end up taking 44,000-50,000 for snacks.
For main meals start on 44,000/50,000 and most people will need 66,000-100,000 units lipase/meal for the long term.”
4a. I have to eat multiple small meals a day (like every 3 hours, so 7 to 8 small meals). Is there a limit on the amount of Creon I can take in a day?
“see question 11”
4b. What is a snack?
“No official definition. Something with a little fat and maybe 50-200kcals.
Are there any problems taking PERT at the same time as other drugs? e.g. I like to take my vitamin supplements with food. And it’s recommended that some drugs be taken with food.
“PERT only breaks down food, but it is important to take your PERT to ensure food and drugs are absorbed. If you do not take you PERT with the meal, it is likely that food and drugs will rush through your bowel without being absorbed. There is no problem taking vitamins and minerals with food and PERT.
5a. I take a probiotic also, when is best time to take this, before, during or after food?
“Timing doesn’t matter”
I heard PERT is a porcine produce but I’m a vegan? Is there anything else for me?
“There are no other recommended products, and you should only have prescription PERT’s. This is for safety and reliability. Other off the shelf enzymes are unlikely to work.
Pigs are not slaughtered for PERT, they are slaughtered for meat and enzymes are a by-product if that makes anyone feel more comfortable with the idea.”
I heard PERT is a porcine produce but my religion does not allow me to eat such produces. Is there anything else for me?
“PERT are only sourced from a pigs pancreas but Jewish and Muslim patients have been granted approval to take the enzymes on medical grounds from their religious leaders because there is no alternative.”
Some doctors are prescribing PPIs along with PERT claiming that they help the PERT do the job. Do you have a view on this and are there any general diet tips to support the job of PERT without resorting to other drugs?
“Yes if you have had a whipples operation or you have acid reflux you must take an anti-acid (proton-pump inhibitor-PPI) drug to reduce the acid level. If left untreated it can cause ulcers, and when they bleed it can sometimes lead to a life threatening situation. PERT are gastro-resistant-they do not work in too high an acid environment. Sometimes a PPI / H2 blocker can decrease the acid level and allow the PERT to work better. There is no other reliable way of reducing stomach acid.
Note: Ronny Allan input that there is information published about the over-subscribing of PPI for long term use. Additionally that some NET specialists are suggesting a preference for H2 Blockers rather than PPI for NET Patients. H2 Receptor Blockers include Nizatidine (Axid), Famotidine (Pepcid, Pepcid AC), Cimetidine (Tagamet, Tagamet HB), Ranitidine (Zantac). The exceptions would be for PPI therapy necessary for Barrett’s Esophagus and Zollinger Ellison Syndrome (Gastrinoma). Details to follow.
8a. I had a whipples two and a half years ago and have recently stopped taking omperazole as I didn’t seem to need them. Do you think I should still be taking something to reduce acid level anyway?
“yep think you should be on Ranitadine or a PPI long term.”
8b. Is it possible to suffer from excess acid without even knowing it? I also take probiotics, is it possible they could be minimising any excess acid? Also, I seem to be able to eat whatever I want without consequence but am worried now in case I am doing wrong and storing up trouble for myself.
“yes you can have silent reflux but after a total pancreatectomy you needs lots of adjustments and insulin dosing advice.”
How will I know the PERT is working for me? And are there any tests to validate this?
“You will know if your PERT is working well if your symptoms improve – i.e. you get normal (mid brown and formed) stools.
Patients taking enough PERT will not become fat soluble vitamin deficient or lose weight in the long term.
You could do a fecal elastase test (if stools are not liquid), but this is not a very reliable test especially for patients with NETs.
If symptoms do not resolve entirely, there may be a co-existing cause of malabsorption e.g. bile acid malabsorption or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.”
9a. With regards to Question 9, how would you know if you have bile acid malabsorption or SIBO? Can you be tested for those?
“If PERT doesn’t resolve things, SIBO testing is another thing to look at using a lactulose drink and hydrogen breath test. If the NET is in the terminal ileum, bile acid malabsorption (BAM) is likely. The test is a SeHCAT scan and treatment usually Questran or Colesevelam.
If I need to stop taking PERT, do I just stop or do I need to taper off consumption over time?
“No, just stop. But only do so if it has caused a side effect and report the reaction to the doctor and pharmaceutical company. If you don’t think they are working, speak with a specialist Dietitian and you may need a PPI or H2 blocker or change brand/dose.”
If someone has had a total gastrectomy, can they take Creon? If so, do they need to open up the pill to remove the gelatin to help the enzymes to work?
“They are to be taken as normally directed. You can open capsules but only into an acidic fruit juice (a pH of 4.5 or below) and swallow immediately. It could be argued that PERT will work most easily in patients having a gastrectomy as you cannot get too high a stomach acid level without stomach P-cells. By the way, shouldn’t be any gelatin in the prescribed PERT”
11a. Are there any problems with taking too much in a day? I have to have 7 to 8 meals (minimum). I am losing weight. Take with every snack and meal?
“You can overdose – for Creon this is 6000 units lipase per kg of body weight. If you are still losing weight, PERT is not working or something else is the cause of malabsorption”
SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTIONS AT THE END
12A. My steatorrhoea only occurs once/twice a month. Is PERT indicated if steatorrhoea is not chronic?
“Yes, probably need to take all month as steatorrhoea is only a sign of extreme malabsorption, small amounts of malabsorption aren’t noticeable visibly but will reflect in weight and blood vitamin levels.”
12B. I do not need Creon as I am a Lung NET; although I have had my gall bladder removed.
“May need PERT if on somatostatin analogues. Some people take a bile acid sequestrants after gall bladder removal. PERT won’t work for that.”
I’ve always known about issues such as steatorrhoea and vitamin/mineral deficiency. My weight is fine but very happy to trial PERT to see the differences. I made a mistake of starting the capsules on Dec 23rd just before Christmas – it made for an interesting week! Early days so far but I’m getting used to taking them (and remembering to take them ….). Still seeing signs of steatorrhoea but am tracking this against diet, No change to stool frequency. I would appear to be belching more though! I will keep this post live as I learn more.
You may wish to see the output from an online chat I carried out, the link is above.
RadioMedix Inc. and Areva (parent company Orano Med) announced the initiation in the United States of Phase 1 trial for AlphaMedixTM in patients with somatostatin receptor (SSTR) positive Neuroendocrine Tumors (NETs). AlphaMedixTM is composed of a somatostatin analogue radiolabeled with 212Pb, an isotope used for Targeted Alpha-emitter Therapy (TAT). This open-label, dose escalation study’s objective is to determine safety, bio-distribution, and preliminary effectiveness of 212 Pb-AR-RMX in adult patients with differentiated (sic) NETs. “Targeted Alpha-emitter Therapy (TAT) is the wave of the future in nuclear oncology and has a tremendous potential to treat patients with NET and overcome some of the limitations of current Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy (PRRT)” said Dr. Ebrahim S. Delpassand, Chairman and CEO of RadioMedix, sponsor of the trial. They further announced on 21 Feb 2018 that the first patients had undergone some treatment.
What is Targeted Alpha-emitter Therapy? Targeted Alpha Therapy is based on the coupling of alpha particle emitting radioisotopes to tumour selective carrier molecules, such as monoclonal antibodies or peptides. These molecules have the ability to selectively target tumour cells even if they are spread throughout the body. They recognize the targeted cancer cells through antigens that are expressed on the cell surface and can bind selectively to these cells, similar a key fitting into a lock. In targeted alpha therapy these carrier molecules serve as vehicles to transport the radioisotopes to the cancer cells. This is called the “magic bullet” approach. Radioisotopes that emit alpha particles seem particularly promising to selectively destroy cancer cells. Alpha particles have a high energy in the range of 5-9 MeV and at the same time a very short path length in human tissue below 0.1 mm, corresponding to less than 10 cell diameters. Consequently, the use of alpha emitters allows the specific targeting and killing of individual malignant cells, while minimizing the toxicity to surrounding healthy tissue. Extracted from EU Science Hub
According to the clinical trials document, this drug addresses an unmet need in the field of peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT) for NETs. Substitution of an alpha emitter (²¹²Pb) for the beta emitters currently being used (i.e., 177Lu or 90Y) will provide significantly higher Linear Energy Transfer (LET) and a shorter path length. Higher LET particles should cause more tumor cell death. Shorter path length should result in less collateral damage of the normal tissue and therefore less side effects for subjects receiving the drug.
What is the difference between PRRT and TAT? From the scant ‘patient understandable‘ information currently available, it would appear that TAT has the potential to be more targeted and less toxic than PRRT – to me that seems like it would be able to target smaller tumors. I also noted that TAT is sometimes described as a ‘radioimmuotherapy’ or ‘alpha immunotherpy’, indicating the mechanism of action is significantly different to that of conventional PRRT. It was also described as a ‘Trojan Horse’ which would seem to hint at its immunotherapy credentials.
I noted that TAT is also being studied for use in Prostate Cancer and Leukaemia.
Announcement of Phase 1 Clinical Trial – click here
Phase 1 Clinical Trial Document– Phase 1 Study of AlphaMedix™ in Adult Subjects With SSTR (+) NET – click here
“Lutetium Lu 177 dotatate (Lutathera®) – PRRT” – click here.
“Expanding PRRT – Trial of 177Lu-Edotreotide (Solucin®) – COMPETE Trial” – click here.
“Theranostics – a find and destroy mission” – click here
“Ga68 PET Scans – into the unknown” – click here