Neuroendocrine Cancer – is normally slow growing BUT …..



I have a lot of be thankful for – I’m still here for starters!


BUT

……… here’s a list of 10 things I’m NOT thankful to Neuroendocrine Cancer for!

Thanks for growing inside me for years before making your vague announcement

Sorry too late, I’m metastatic and around 50% of patients will be at diagnosis (so I’m not alone!). It’s very SNEAKY!

No thanks for making a right mess inside my body!

I mean, I look really good, I look really well, but you should see my INSIDES

No thanks for generating fibrosis throughout my mesentery and retroperitoneum!

I really didn’t know what to make of this issue at diagnosis, although I did know the aorta was pretty important!  Fortunately I had a surgeon who had operated on many NET patients and has seen this issue before.  After my first surgery, he described it as a “dense fibrotic retroperitoneal reaction encircling his aorta and cava (inferior vena cava (IVC))”. My surgeon was known for difficult and extreme surgery, so as part of the removal of my primary, he also spent 3 hours dissecting out the retroperitoneal fibrosis surrounding these important blood vessels and managed 270 degree clearance. The remnant still shows on CT scans. Some of the removed tissue was tested and found to be benign, showing only florid inflammation and fibrosis (thankfully).  That said, the abstract papers above has led me to believe that my retroperitoneal fibrosis is clinically significant.  In fact I have spent the last 3 months worrying about some of it growing into reach of important vessels and only just been given the all clear (for now). 

fibrosis an unsolved mystery

No thanks for screwing up some of my hormones

There are many hormones involved with Neuroendocrine Cancer which is unique in that different types can result in elevated levels of different hormones, often more than one is involved.  Serotonin has caused fibrosis in my retroperitoneal area and is currently threatening important vessels. I don’t really need that right now!


No thanks for the ongoing symptoms and side effects

I was showing symptoms of a Neuroendocrine Cancer syndrome known as Carcinoid Syndrome (currently) such as flushing and diarrhea and fatigue was probably there too, but these were thought to be something else or ignored (by me).  I don’t suffer too much nowadays other than side effects of the disease or the treatment I’ve had or receiving.  However, I know from speaking to many patients the effects of the various syndromes associated with Neuroendocrine Cancer can be pretty debilitating and oppressive to quality of life.

These syndromes can be so strange and so weird, they can be very difficult for patients, nurses and doctors to treat. They can be a real ‘witch’s brew’.

Surveillance and treatment for life SUCKS!

But I need constant surveillance, it’ll keep me alive.

No thanks for the weight loss

As if I needed it

No thanks for the hypothyroidism

Another pill for life. I have a left-sided thyroid lesion and my treatment also messes with my hormone levels.

No thanks for increasing my diabetes risk

No thanks for pushing me into pre-diabetes. My blood sugar is spiking, most likely due to treatment.

No thanks for making me retire early

I loved my job but not if it was going to kill me. I made my own decision  based on how I could survive in a financial sense. Made easier as I was only 8 years from retirement but I guess I’m one of the lucky ones despite the fact I took a big hit on the income going into my bank account.

The truth is that many people still need to work whilst struggling with side effects of the cancer and its treatment. Getting some form of financial assistance from the government is not a done deal.

Neuroendocrine Cancer is a very expensive disease to treat.

This is fast becoming a big issue regardless of country and regardless of healthcare system in place. However, in privately funded healthcare, it can be exacerbated by the level of insurance cover. Read more about financial toxicity for cancer patients which is a growing problem worldwide.

……….. and no thanks to anyone who says it’s a “good cancer


Thanks for reading

Ronny

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Remember ….. in the war on Neuroendocrine Cancer, let’s not forget to win the battle for better quality of life!


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Weight – the NET Effect

Weight – The NET Effect

Firstly, let me say that I have no intention of advising you how to lose or gain weight!  Rather, I’d like to discuss what factors might be involved and why people with NETs might lose or gain weight either at diagnosis or after treatment.  Clearly I can talk freely about my own experience and associated weight issues. If nothing else, it might help some in thinking about what is causing their own weight issues.

I wrote a patient story for an organisation over 3 years ago and it started with the words  “Did you mean to lose weight”.  Those were actually the words a nurse said to me after I nonchalantly told her I thought I’d lost some weight (….about half a stone).  I answered the question with “no” and this response triggered a sequence of events that led to all the stories in all the posts in this blog (i.e. my diagnosis).

I annoyingly can’t remember at which point I started to lose the weight but I was initially reported to have Iron Deficiency Anemia due to a low hemoglobin result and my subsequent iron test (Serum Ferritin) was also low and out of normal range.  This, combined with the weight loss, the GP was spot on by referring me to a clinic.  The sequence of events during the referral led to a diagnosis of metastatic NETs (Small Intestine Primary). If I had been a betting man, I would have put money on my GP thinking “Colorectal Cancer”.  So my adage “If your doctors don’t suspect something, they won’t detect anything” applies.

I can also tell you that I weigh myself most days at the same time using the same scales. Weight loss or gain needs to be recorded.  Clearly 2 or 3 pounds is nothing to worry about, I found you could put on or lose that amount in a day, depending on time of weighing and food intake. I’m looking for downwards or upwards trends of 7lbs or more (3kg).

Why did I lose weight?

The drop from 12st to 11st was clearly something to do with the anemia symptom (the NETs). But after diagnosis, I had major surgery about 10 weeks later.  When I left the hospital after my 19 day stay, I was a whole stone lighter (14 lbs or 6.3 kg).  I guess 3 feet of intestine, the cecum, an ascending colon, a bit of a transverse colon together with an army of lymph nodes and other abdominal ‘gubbins’ actually weighs a few pounds.

However, add the gradual introduction of foods to alleviate pressure on the ‘new plumbing’, and this is also going to have an effect on weight.  I remember my Oncologist after the surgery saying to use full fat milk – the context is lost in memory but I guess he was trying to help me put weight back on.  I also vividly remember many of my clothes not fitting me after this surgery. In fact, since 2010, I’ve actually dropped 2 trouser sizes and one shirt/jumper size.  I did spend a lot of time in the toilet over the coming months, so I guess that also had an impact!  However, what I wasn’t aware of was the side effect of my surgery.  I started to put on some weight in time for my next big surgery – a liver resection.  The average adult liver weighs 1.5 kg so I lost another 1 kg in one day based on a 66% liver resection.

However, what was also going on was something that took me a while to figure out – malabsorption and vitamin/mineral deficiency. My new ‘plumbing’ wasn’t really as efficient as my old one, so the malabsorption. issues caused by a lack of terminal ileum was slowly starting to have an effect. The commencement of Lanreotide in Dec 2010 added to this complication. That knowledge led me to understand some of the more esoteric nutritional issues that can have a big effect on NET patients and actually lead to a host of side effects that might be confused with one of the several NET syndromes.  What it also confirmed to me was that I could still eat foods I enjoy without worrying too much about the effect on my remnant tumours or the threat of a recurrence of my carcinoid syndrome, something I was experiencing prior to and after diagnosis.

Armed with the ‘consequences of NETs’ knowledge, I did eventually adjust my diet and my weight has now ‘flat-lined’ at around 10 st 7 lbs (give or take 1 or 2 lbs fluctuation).  Amazingly, the same weight I was when I left hospital after major surgery, looking thin and gaunt and not very well at all!  The difference to day is that I have adapted to my new weight and look fit and healthy.

I actually lost another half a stone (7 lbs or 3.5 kg) in 2014 whilst training for an 84 mile charity walk – many commented that I looked thin and gaunt despite being extremely fit from all the training. Perspectives.  It took several months to put the weight back on but at least I knew what had caused the loss and then subsequent gain.

I don’t have any appetite issues although I try to avoid big meals due to a shorter gut, so I snack more.  With the exception of the 4 months of intense training for the 84 mile hike, I cannot seem to lose or gain weight.  As my current weight is bang in the middle of the BMI green zone (healthy), I’m content.

Why do NET patients lose weight?

That’s a tricky one but any authoritative resource will confirm fairly obvious things such as (but not limited to) loss of appetite and side effects of cancer treatments.  NETs can be complex so I resorted to researching the ISI Book on NETs, a favourite resource of mine.  I wanted to check out any specific mentions of weight and NETs whether at diagnosis or beyond. Here’s some of the things I found out:

Carcinoid Syndrome.  Weight loss is listed but not as high a percentage as I thought – although it tends to be tied into those affected most with diarrhea.

Gastrinoma/Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome.  Up to half of these patients will have weight loss at diagnosis.

Glucagonoma.  90% will have weight loss.

Pheochromocytoma.   Weight loss is usual.

Somatostatinoma.  Weight loss in one-third of pancreatic cases and one-fifth in intestinal cases.

VIPoma.  Weight loss is usual.

MEN Syndromes.  One of the presentational symptoms can be weight loss.

Secondary Effects of NETs.

Many NETs can result in diabetes (particularly certain pNETs) and as somatostatin analogues can inhibit insulin, it could push those at borderline levels into formal diabetic levels (including any type of NET using long term somatostatin analogues).  In people with diabetes, insufficient insulin prevents the body from getting glucose from the blood into the body’s cells to use as energy. When this occurs, the body starts burning fat and muscle for energy, causing a reduction in overall body weight. 

Hypothyroidism is another potential issue. 

It must be emphasised that there will always be exceptions and the above will not apply to every single patient with one of the above.

What about weight gain?

You always associate weight loss with cancer patients but there are some types of NETs and associated syndromes which might actually cause weight gain.  Here’s what I found from ISI and other sources (as mentioned):

Cushing’s Syndrome.  Centripetal weight gain is mentioned.  (Centripetal – tends to the centre of the body).  I also noted that Cushing’s Syndrome tends to be much more prevalent in females. Cushing’s syndrome comprises the signs and symptoms caused by excessive amounts of the hormone cortisol (hypercortisolism) or by an overdosage of drugs known as glucocorticoids.

Insulinoma. Weight gain occurs in around 40% of cases, because patients may eat frequently to avoid symptoms.  However, according to an Insulinoma support group site, I did note that after treatment (some stability), things can improve.

Again, it must be emphasised that there will always be exceptions and the above will not apply to every single patient with one of the above.  As in weight loss scenarios, the Secondary Effects of NETs can have an effect.  Hypothyroidism is another potential issue and weight gain is a listed symptom.  I just been diagnosed with hypothyroidism this year but I was not gaining weight!  

The NETs Jigsaw

Like anything in NETs, things can get complex.  So it is entirely possible that weight loss or weight gain is directly caused by NETs, can be caused by side effects/secondary effects of treatment, and it’s also possible that it could be something unrelated to NETs (Dr Liu “Even NET patients get regular illnesses“).  I guess some people might have a good idea of the reason for theirs – my initial weight loss was without doubt caused by the cancer and the post diagnostic issues caused by the consequences of the cancer.

Summary

I guess that weight loss or weight gain can be a worry. I also suspect that people might be happy to lose or gain weight if they were under/over weight before diagnosis (every cloud etc).  However, if you are progressively losing weight, I encourage you to seek advice soonest or ask to see a dietician (preferably one who understands NETs).

Edit:  I changed my blood thinner in May 2017 and lost 2kg (4 pounds) after 6 months.

Edit: I started Creon at the beginning of 2018 (read about this here) and almost immediately put on 2kg (4 pounds) to offset the 2kg loss from 6 months prior.  However, no real change after 3 months of Creon (March 2018).

Edit: I was recently diagnosed with Hypothyroidism, one of the symptoms can be weight gain.  Clearly that has not applied to me.  Hyperthyroidism is the opposite condition where weight loss is a symptom.

Edit: Due to a bad chest infection in June 2018 and due to the consequences of the effects of that illness and most likely the treatments undergone, I have dropped three quarters of a stone (~10lbs).  My lightest weight for over 30 years.   To me that is a significant loss of weight in such a short space of time. Currently trying to put it back on again – I need the weight!

Edit: 4 Sep 2018. After the 10lbs (~4.5kg) loss following the chest infection, people who see me regularly have noticed the visible difference. I’m still struggling to get back beyond 10st after 2 months. I’m monitoring this really closely.

Edit: 28 Nov 2018. I’m back at 10st after increasing my dosage of Creon.

Edit: 10 Jan 2019.  I’m back at 10st 3lbs, my approximate weight before the chest infection.  It’s taken 7 months and the recent acceleration coincides with Creon dose increase.

Edit 7th Feb 2019.  Changed from Creon to Nutrizym.

Edit: 17 Mar 2019.  It appears my trouser waist size is back to 32″.  Is the use of Pancreatic Enzymes making me eat more, or getting more nutrients through, or making me eat food which makes me put on weight?

For those wishing to see the output from an online discussion with Tara Whyand on the subject of ‘Weight’ issues for NET patients – please see this link inside my closed Facebook group.

weight online chat
Click the Link to see the online event output

Thanks for reading

Ronny

I’m also active on Facebook. Like my page for even more news. I’m also building up this site here: Ronny Allan

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Remember ….. in the war on Neuroendocrine Cancer, let’s not forget to win the battle for better quality of life!

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North of the wall is a dangerous place – you must never go there!

 Game-of-Thrones-Poster-North-of-The-Wall

There was a 60 minute silence last night as another episode of Game of Thrones was aired.  Not a Facebook post or tweet in sight.  This has to be ‘up there’ in a list of the best TV series ever?  Don’t know about you but I’m sometimes confused about who is who and how they are related and/or connected!  (see useful chart at the bottom of this post)

Chris and I love the introduction bit.  She likes the music, I like the geography.  There are some obvious correlations there, e.g. ‘The Wall’ is meant to relate to Hadrian’s Wall with those horrible barbarian Scots to the north 🙂  Thank God Hadrian’s Wall and the climate in particular, isn’t as bad as portrayed on GOT!  

I did contemplate using ‘trousers’ as the theme of today’s blog following some interesting banter on my Facebook page.  The debate centred on the type of causal clothing one should wear if one is of a certain age. Most of the debaters were ex-military which made for some interesting input followed by even more interesting output!   Anyway…. having recently reduced from a 32″ to a 30″ waist, I made the trip down town today to buy some new jeans and came back with nothing, the ones I really liked seemed to either start at 32″ waist or did not include a short leg option.

However, Chris and I did manage to pick up two suitcase  bargains in the Debenhams sale.  For the last 6 holidays we have been enviously watching all those flash people with their ‘push along’ suitcases whilst we huff and puff behind them with our 1980s luggage.   ‘Roll on’ Gatwick next month!   

I’ve skipped a couple of days worth of A to Z terms so need to catch up.  Read on as I know from feedback that quite a lot of you guys enjoy my ‘layperson’ explanations of complex medical stuff!  Two important ‘techy’ bits here to cover the ‘M’ and ‘N’ components of my A to Z.

Metastatic Cancer

In a nutshell, Metastatic cancer is a cancer that has spread from the part of the body where it started (the primary site) to other parts of the body. When cancer cells break away from a tumour, they can travel to other areas of the body through the bloodstream or the lymph system.  The spread of a cancer is often described in terms of a ‘stage’.  This shouldn’t be confused with ‘grade’ which is normally how aggressive a cancer is – I talked about this in my blog of 11 May.  Staging and Grading for Neuroendocrine Cancer can be complex and there doesn’t appear to be a standard that all NET centres adhere to. There is a complex grading system proposed for Neuroendocrine Cancer known as TNM (Tumour, Node, Metastasis) but mostly it’s still referenced by the simple Stage 0 to IV (0 to 4) model.  For some types of Neuroendocrine Cancer there appears to be an even simpler model of ‘Local’, ‘Regional’ and ‘Metastatic’.   My stage is ‘Metastatic’, Stage IV or TNM – T4N2M1 depending on which one is being used.

Neuorendocrine

Appears to be pronounced ‘….crin’ which was a revelation for me after 12 months!   I had never heard of this word until it had been imprinted all over my internal workings!  It’s amazing how much of the human body we take for granted.  The neuroendocrine system is made up of the nervous system and the endocrine system. The systems work together to keep your body functioning regularly. Neuroendocrine describes certain cells that release hormones into the blood in response to stimulation of the nervous system; i.e.

  • Your brain sends signals to your nervous system that control various body functions 
  • Some messages are sent to the glands of the endocrine system. These include the pancreas, hypothalamus, thyroid and parathyroid, pituitary gland, adrenal glands, ovaries, and testes.
  • These glands release hormones that control important body functions, such as growth, metabolism, reproduction, and response to stress or injury.

Sometimes neuroendocrine cells can become cancerous and in certain types (mainly Carcinoid), it can result in the neuroendocrine system secreting excess hormones which will create dangerous problems for sufferers.   This is one of the reasons I now avoid alcohol, very large meals, certain types of food and stress…….. so if you’re out for a meal with me and you notice the bill is exorbitant, don’t let me see it 🙂

I went on to produce a blog explaining the word ‘Neuroendocrine’ to  laypersons – you can read this here:  CLICK

Don’t forget to check out the GOT chart below!

Thanks for reading

Ronny Allan

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