Neuroendocrine Cancer – a difficult jigsaw

Neuroendocrine Cancer – a difficult jigsaw

Awareness, Living with Neuroendocrine Cancer, Patient Advocacy, Survivorship
A couple of years ago, I received a request from a reader asking if I would write an article about all the symptoms experienced by a Neuroendocrine Cancer patient and how to sort out what is and what isn't associated with NETs. Although I chuckled and raised eyebrows at the request, inside I was genuinely humbled that someone thought I was capable of achieving this herculean task.  I actually gave it quite a bit of thought to the point of compiling a matrix of types of NET, main symptoms, cross-referenced with the symptoms of the most common reported comorbidities. After it started to look like it might be bigger than the Empire State Building, I came to the conclusion that it's an almost impossible task for a wee Scottish guy with less common disease :-)  I also started…
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Neuroendocrine Neoplasms – Grade and Stage (incorporating WHO 2017 changes)

Neuroendocrine Neoplasms – Grade and Stage (incorporating WHO 2017 changes)

Living with Neuroendocrine Cancer, Technical NETs
One of the most discussed and sometimes confusing subjects on forums is the staging and grading of Neuroendocrine Neoplasms (NENs). Mixing them up is a common error and so it's important to understand the difference despite the apparent complexity. If I was to make a list of questions for my specialist/Oncologist at diagnosis, it would include "What is the stage, grade and differentiation of my cancer".  To enable me to synchronise with the documented guidance, I'm going to use the following WHO 2017 approved terms in this post: Neuroendocrine Neoplasm (NEN) - all types of Neuroendocrine tumour of whatever grade (please note Neoplasm is another word for tumour) Neuroendocrine Tumour (NET) - all well-differentiated tumours (an explanation of differentiation will be provided below) Neuroendocrine Carcinoma (NEC) - all poorly differentiated tumours…
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I bet my flush beats yours?

I bet my flush beats yours?

Awareness, Living with Neuroendocrine Cancer, Patient Advocacy, Technical NETs, Treatment
[caption id="attachment_7911" align="aligncenter" width="500"] There are different types of flush![/caption] Neuroendocrine Cancers can sometimes present with one or more vague symptoms which occasionally results in a lengthy diagnostic phase for some.  Sure, there can be issues with doctor experience and knowledge that can add to the problem. However, some people do present with multiple vague and confusing symptoms and some people have comorbidities which have similar symptoms.  Textbook diagnostics just don't make sense, sometimes even when the doctor suspects Neuroendocrine Cancer i.e. classic symptoms of 'something' but with negative markers for NETs. Clearly those are extreme cases and just like other complex diseases, many diagnoses of Neuroendocrine Cancer can be extremely challenging.  Even for an experienced doctor, it can be a difficult jigsaw! Most types of Neuroendocrine Cancer can be accompanied by a 'syndrome' i.e. the tumours are 'functional' and…
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Screw that diagnosis and get on with it!

General
  [caption id="attachment_3902" align="alignleft" width="300"] Screw that diagnosis and get on with it![/caption] Every now and then I see a positive story during my travels around the internet.  When I saw this one from K**** in Pennsylvania, I had to share.  If you're feeling a little bit down and need cheering up, dig out this blog and take a read :-) K**** wrote: "I began my Carcinoid journey about 7 years ago, newly married to a wonderful man and his daughter at the age of 43.  I was also newly retired (from CPA and also Large Animal/Equine Surgical Veterinary Assistant) and was looking forward to a nice, peaceful, fun, loooong life. But, things get in the way and can get bumpy - cancer, being one of them (and a now, 16yo…
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Neuroendocrine Cancer Nutrition Series Article 3 – Gut Health

Neuroendocrine Cancer Nutrition Series Article 3 – Gut Health

Diet and Nutrition, Living with Neuroendocrine Cancer, Technical NETs
OPINION.  Nutritional issues are one of the biggest challenges affecting most Neuroendocrine Cancer patients.  It is also a key factor in maintaining a decent quality of life and for most countries without adequate NET Specialist Dietitian support, it remains an unmet need. In this article, I'm discussing the use of probiotics to combat the potential issue of small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) in Neuroendocrine Tumours.   When I first indicated this nutrition series was under construction, a few people got quite excited anticipating me to produce advice on what to eat.  However, that was never my intention. What people should or should not eat is such a varied problem (or solution?) that anything I said would only really be of help to those for whom it worked - this area is…
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Neuroendocrine…..the little suckers get everywhere!

Awareness, Technical NETs
One of the key milestones in my awareness campaigns occurred when I featured as a guest blogger for one of the biggest cancer 'support' organisations in the world - Macmillan. The aim of the blog 'Sorry I'm not in service' was actually to highlight the consequences of cancer and its treatment (a Macmillan Campaign message); and to a certain extent to highlight the conflict that can often exist between work and cancer. However, it was also a fantastic opportunity for me to grab the interest of the general population with the word 'Neuroendocrine'.  The response was amazing and on twitter it was one of Macmillan's most retweeted posts over that period.  The Macmillan Facebook post was also very popular and still rising with over 500 likes and over 40 shares so far. There are some great comments on the post and the one which…
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Neuroendocrine Cancer Syndromes – Early Signs of a Late Diagnosis

Neuroendocrine Cancer Syndromes – Early Signs of a Late Diagnosis

Awareness, Diet and Nutrition, Living with Neuroendocrine Cancer, Technical NETs, Treatment
One of the curious things about Neuroendocrine Cancer (NETs going forward) is that it can very often exhibit one or more vague symptoms collectively known as a 'syndrome'.  Syndrome is an apt word to describe these complications as the most general meaning in medical terms is a group of symptoms that together are characteristic of a specific disorder or disease".  Having a syndrome can often be the difference between having a 'functional' condition or a non-functional' condition - see more below. This frequently makes Neuroendocrine Cancer very difficult to diagnose quickly.  It's a very devious disease. It's not all about Carcinoid Syndrome! Most people think of Carcinoid Syndrome when they discuss NETs. Anyone suggesting that all NET patients get carcinoid syndrome or that all symptoms of NETs are caused by carcinoid syndrome,…
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‘Chinese Dumplings’ and Neuroendocrine Cancer

Technical NETs, Treatment
[caption id="attachment_3653" align="aligncenter" width="477"] Chinese dumplings[/caption] One of my daily alerts brought up this very interesting article published in the Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology last month (June 2015).  I personally found it fascinating. Moreover, it gave me some hope that specialists are out there looking for novel treatments to help with the difficult fight against Neuroendocrine Cancer. This is an article about something generally described as "Intra-operative Chemotherapy", i.e. the administration of chemo during surgery.  This isn't any old article - this is written by someone who is very well-known in Neuroendocrine Cancer circles - Dr. Yi-Zarn Wang.   The general idea behind this isn't exactly new as there's also a procedure known as HIPEC (Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy) or "chemo bath".  This is mostly used intra-operatively for people with advanced appendiceal cancers…
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Neuroendocrine Cancer Nutrition Series Article 1 – Vitamin and Mineral Challenges

Neuroendocrine Cancer Nutrition Series Article 1 – Vitamin and Mineral Challenges

Diet and Nutrition, Living with Neuroendocrine Cancer
Always speak to your specialist before taking vitamin and mineral supplements Featuring Tara Whyand. Despite learning early on in my journey that nutrition was going to be a challenge, I sensed the initial focus of my treatment was on getting rid of as much tumour bulk as possible and then controlling (stabilising) the disease through monitoring and surveillance. Clearly I'm happy about that! However, it eventually became clear that the impact of this constant treatment/controlling, meant that some of the less obvious signs of nutrient deficiency were potentially being missed. This is one of the key reasons I believe there is a gap in specialist follow on support for Neuroendocrine Cancer patients - at least in the UK. As I said in my article 'I may be stable but I still need…
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Surgery – the gift that keeps on giving

Survivorship, Technical NETs, Treatment
As we approach NET Cancer Day, my thoughts return to 9 Nov 2010. I had been diagnosed with metastatic Neuroendocrine Cancer a few months before and told it was incurable. However, with 'debulking' surgery, my Oncologist said my prognosis could be significantly improved. I now know from my own research that Neuroendocrine Tumours are one of a small number of cancers for which surgical debulking confers some survival advantage.  Another term used at the time was 'cytoreductive' surgery which means 'to control symptoms and improve survival by removing or destroying disseminated tumour metastases'.  Less neuroendocrine tumours should result in lower secretions of specific hormones which in turn should decrease the effects of Carcinoid Syndrome from which I was suffering at presentation.  I'm still alive and kicking and don't feel too…
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Neuroendocrine Cancer – not an exact Science

Neuroendocrine Cancer – not an exact Science

Awareness, Living with Neuroendocrine Cancer, Patient Advocacy, Technical NETs
I've been interested in science since my school days and seem to remember it being separated into Biology, Physics and Chemistry for study and examination purposes. Biology wasn't on my radar and as I found Chemistry boring, I focused on Physics which seemed to be more 'modern' and exciting. Curiously, at the beginning of my Open University degree course some 25 years later, I found the Biology and Chemistry modules of my foundation year the most enjoyable part of the whole 6 year study.  Different teaching methods? different teachers?  Perhaps, but I suspect some maturity was involved plus a hunger for new knowledge. I seem to have caught the learning bug again since being diagnosed with Neuroendocrine Cancer (NET Cancer).  Like many other NET Cancer patients, I feel I need to know a lot more than the average cancer patient.  For me, this can be attributed to a number of…
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I woke up on NET Cancer day

I woke up on NET Cancer day

Awareness, Inspiration, Living with Neuroendocrine Cancer, Survivorship, Technical NETs, Treatment
[caption id="attachment_2130" align="alignnone" width="600"] what I mainly remember was my wife Chris holding my hand which gave me a great deal of much-needed comfort and security[/caption]   [caption id="attachment_10856" align="alignnone" width="300"] Featured this post[/caption] [caption id="attachment_10865" align="alignnone" width="252"] Featured this post[/caption]   It was 10th November 2010 just after midnight. I gradually woke up after a marathon 9 hour surgery - the first of what was to be several visits to an operating theatre.  The last thing I remembered before going 'under' was the voices of the surgical staff. When I woke up, I remember it being dark and I appeared to be constrained and pinned down by the dozen or so tubes going in and out of my weak and battered body.  I can still remember the feeling today, it was…
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Neuroendocrine Cancer – shh! Can you hear it? (…..I didn’t)

Neuroendocrine Cancer – shh! Can you hear it? (…..I didn’t)

Awareness, Patient Advocacy
[caption id="attachment_4472" align="aligncenter" width="550"] shh! - can you hear it? I didn't.[/caption] The sooner any cancer can be correctly diagnosed, the better chances of a curative scenario for the person concerned.  However, some cancers are in the 'difficult to diagnose' category.  Neuroendocrine Tumours (NETs) are in this category due to the vague symptoms which may be mistaken for other diseases and routine illnesses. This is one of the reasons there have been many lengthy diagnostic delays.  In many cases, it can be very quiet leading to incidental diagnosis at an advanced stage. It's SNEAKY! In some cases it can be a little bit noisy. For example, some of the most common misdiagnoses appears to be Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), asthma, or menopause.  Patients complain of abdominal pain, wheezing, shortness of breath, diarrhea, flushing, palpitations and a whole…
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If your Doctors don’t suspect something, they won’t detect anything!

If your Doctors don’t suspect something, they won’t detect anything!

Awareness, Patient Advocacy
Opinion: One of the most discussed and debated Cancer issues is late diagnosis. Cyberspace is full of disturbing stories and many different cancers are involved. Some cancers are much more difficult to diagnose than others and this increases the need for more awareness and education campaigns. Under-diagnosed or Under-reported? Like many other Cancers, Neuroendocrine Cancer (known as Neuroendocrine Tumors or NETs) is one of a number of 'difficult to diagnose' conditions with some of its variants more difficult than others.  It's a less common form of cancer but with a fast rising incidence rate, possibly the fastest rising incidence rate of all cancers. In fact, its fast rising incidence rate has been a positive in some ways, contributing to awareness and the introduction of new treatments. In some respects, the incidence rate increase is due to people knowing more…
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My stomach sometimes cramps my style

My stomach sometimes cramps my style

Awareness, Diet and Nutrition, Living with Neuroendocrine Cancer, Survivorship
[caption id="attachment_13469" align="alignnone" width="720"] Seriously![/caption] When planning to walk Hadrian's Wall in the north of England in 2014, I carried out a number of risk assessments (as all good Project Managers do!).  In true 'Donald Rumsfeld style', I considered all the 'known unknowns' and the 'unknown unknowns' :-)  Anybody who doesn't is either reckless or supremely confident (the latter can sometimes be the same as the former......). As a Cancer patient, there were some issues I had to consider which might not have made the list for most walkers covering this sort of distance and this type of terrain.  One of the issues I occasionally experience is stomach cramps, not that frequent but problematic and quite painful when they occur.  If you've had abdominal surgery, you might be having to deal…
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