Don’t be underactive with your Thyroid surveillance


thyroid

From other posts, you’ll be aware of the thyroid lesion (now 17x19mm) which I’ve been tracking since 2013. The surveillance has included routine thyroid blood tests, mainly TSH, T3 and 4. Due to trends in TSH and T4, it’s been suggested I’m borderline hypothyroidism. I’m out of range in TSH (elevated) but the T4 is currently at the lower end of the normal range.  On 20 March 2018, following an Endocrine appointment, I was put on a trial dose of 50mcg of Levothyroxine to counter the downwards trend in results indicating hypothyroidism. Levothyroxine is essentially a thyroid hormone (thyroxine) replacement.  One month after taking these drugs, my thyroid blood levels are now normal for the first time in 4 years (since there are records of test results – it might be longer).

The NET Connection?

To put things into context, hypothyroidism is an extremely common condition and the main treatment is administration of thyroid hormone  replacement therapy (i.e. Lewvothyroxine).  This is in the top 5 of the most commonly prescribed medication in USA and UK.

However, there are connections with NETs.  Firstly there is one type of cancer known as Medullary Thyroid Cancer (MTC) and it also has a familial version known as Familial MTC or FMTC.

There are also connections between regular Neuroendocrine Tumours (NETs) and the  thyroid.  It can often be a site for metastasis, something I have not yet written off given it lights up on nuclear scanning – although my biopsy was inconclusive.   You can see a summary of the connections and my own thyroid issue in more detail in my article “Troublesome Thyroids”. Please note the parathyroid glands are beyond the scope of this article.

Thyroid Function – the Lanreotide/Octreotide connection

Before I continue talking about hypothyroidism, here’s something not very well-known: Somatostatin analogues might cause a “slight decrease in Thyroid function” (a quote from the Lanreotide patient leaflet). The Octreotide patient leaflet also states “Underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)” as a side effect. Many sources indicate that thyroid function should be monitored when on long-term use of somatostatin analogues. It’s also possible and totally feasible that many NET patients will have thyroid issues totally unrelated to their NETs. Remember, NET patients can get regular illnesses too!

What is Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of thyroxine. This leads to an underactive thyroid. It seldom causes symptoms in the early stages, but over time, untreated hypothyroidism can cause a number of health problems, such as obesity, joint pain, infertility and heart disease. Both men and women can have an underactive thyroid, although it’s more common in women. In the UK, it affects 15 in every 1,000 women and 1 in 1,000 men. Children can also develop an underactive thyroid.

What causes Hypothyroidism?

  • Autoimmune thyroid disease sometimes called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Radioactive iodine or surgery to correct hyperthyroidism or cancer
  • Over-treatment of hyperthyroidism with anti-thyroid drugs
  • Some medicines
  • A malfunction of the pituitary gland

What are the symptoms of Hypothyroidism?

The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism vary, depending on the severity of the hormone deficiency. But in general, any problems you have tend to develop slowly, often over a number of years. At first, you may barely notice the symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as fatigue and weight gain, or you may simply attribute them to getting older. But as your metabolism continues to slow, you may develop more-obvious signs and symptoms. Hypothyroidism signs. Below are major symptoms associated with hypothyroidism:

    • Fatigue
    • Weakness
    • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight (despite reduced food intake)
    • Coarse, dry hair and dry skin
    • Hair loss
    • Sensitivity to cold
    • Muscle cramps and aches
    • Constipation
    • Depression
    • Irritability
    • Memory loss
    • Abnormal menstrual cycles
    • Decreased libido
    • Slowed speech (severe cases)
    • Jaundice (severe cases)
    • Increase in tongue size (severe cases)

Check out this excellent short video from WebMD – click here or the picture below.  It’s based on USA but most of it is relevant globally.

thyroid video webmd

You don’t have to encounter every one of these symptoms to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Every patient’s experience with the disorder is different. While you may notice that your skin and hair have become dry and rough, another patient may be plagued more by fatigue and depression.

When hypothyroidism isn’t treated, signs and symptoms can gradually become more severe. Constant stimulation of your thyroid gland to release more hormones may lead to an enlarged thyroid (goiter). In addition, you may become more forgetful, your thought processes may slow, or you may feel depressed.

Now ….. some of these symptoms look very familiar to me and they also look very familiar to some of the comments I see on patient forums related to somatostatin analogues and some of the NET syndromes – that jigsaw thing again. I guess it’s possible that people are borderline hypothyroidism prior to taking somatostatin analogues and the drug pushes them out of range (similar to what it’s known to do with blood glucose levels and diabetes). I’m not suggesting a direct clinical link in all cases but what I am suggesting is that perhaps some of the answers might be found in checking Thyroid hormone levels.

What are the Thyroid Hormone tests for Hypothyroidism?

A high thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level with a low thyroxine (T4) level indicates hypothyroidism. Rarely, hypothyroidism can occur when both the TSH and T4 are low. A slightly raised TSH with a normal T4 is called subclinical, mild, or borderline hypothyroidism. Subclinical hypothyroidism can develop into clinical or overt hypothyroidism

Routine ‘Thyroid blood tests’ from your doctor will confirm whether or not you have a thyroid disorder. I now test for TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone), T4 every 6 months. Mostly in range but recently TSH is spiking out of range and T4 is consistently at the lower end of normal range.

Can hypothyroidism be treated?

Yes. A synthetic version of thyroxine taken daily as prescribed. e.g. Levothyroxine tablets

OK that’s Hypothyroidism – what is Hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone for the body’s needs. It is also known as an overactive thyroid or thyrotoxicosis. An overactive thyroid can affect anyone, but it’s about 10 times more common in women than men and it typically starts between 20 and 40 years of age.

      • Hyper – means “over -“
      • Hypo – means “under -“
      • The terms “hyperthyroid” and “thyrotoxic” are interchangeable

Causes

      • Graves’ disease – the most common cause
      • A toxic nodular goitre (a goitre is an enlarged thyroid gland)
      • A solitary toxic thyroid adenoma (an adenoma is a clump of cells)
      • Thyroiditis (infection or inflammation of the thyroid gland) which is temporary

Common Symptoms

A speeding up of mental and physical processes of the whole body, such as

      • weight loss, despite an increased appetite
      • palpitations / rapid pulse
      • sweating and heat intolerance
      • tiredness and weak muscles
      • nervousness, irritability and shakiness
      • mood swings or aggressive behaviour
      • looseness of the bowels
      • warm, moist hands
      • thirst
      • passing larger than usual amounts of urine
      • itchiness
      • an enlarged thyroid gland

If the cause is Graves’ disease, you may also have ‘thyroid eye disease’. Smokers are up to eight times more likely to develop thyroid eye disease than non-smokers.

Diagnosis

      • By a physical examination and blood tests
      • A low thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level with a high thyroxine (T4) level indicate hyperthyroidism

Treatment Options

      • Antithyroid drugs
      • Surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid gland
      • Radioactive iodine to destroy most of the thyroid tissue

Research sources used to compile this post:

1. Lanreotide Patient Leaflet.

2. Octreotide Patient Leaflet.

3. British Thyroid Foundation. (particularly how to interpret Thyroid results – click here) – always check the unit of measure when comparing blood result ranges)

4. The UK NHS – Hypothyroidism (under active) and Hyperthyroidism (over active)

Thanks for reading

Ronny

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Did you hear the one about the constipated NET patient?

constipation
did you hear the one about the constipated NET Patient?

In my neck of the woods, “did you hear the one about the ………” is normally a precursor to a witty comment, or a joke.   However, constipation for NET patients is not actually funny – read on.

Certain types of Neuroendocrine Cancer are very heavily associated with diarrhea, either as a symptom of one of the NET Syndromes (yes there is more than one …..); or as a result of surgery or certain other treatments.  Occasionally, these symptoms and side effects can all combine to make it quite a nasty and worrying side effect.

I must admit to being surprised to find myself with feelings of constipation from around 4-5 years after my treatment and I set about trying to find out why that might be. To understand why I got to this stage, I assessed the history of my treatment and what I changed in an attempt to improve my Quality of Life (QoL) – I feel there is a strong connection.

When I underwent my primary surgery (Nov 2010), my surgeon said it would take months for my ‘digestive system’ to return to some form of normality.  I soon found out what he meant, I seemed to be permanently affixed to a toilet seat (plenty of reading opportunities though ….. every cloud!).   I suddenly realised that I needed to start looking seriously at my diet.  I did find some improvements by trying to eat things that would bulk up my stools vs trying to avoid things that might increase frequency (i.e. I wanted a reduction in frequency combined with a bulkier stool). Eventually, I settled on a regime for the first couple of years and to be honest, I didn’t need to change my diet in any radical sense.  I was also determined not to take any medication (I was taking enough) and wanted this to work as naturally as possible.

Things were still not ideal and in 2013, I even remember saying to my Oncologist that although I was never misdiagnosed with IBS, I felt like I now had it. I decided to attack this issue following professional advice from one of the eminent experts in the NET specialist dietitian world – Tara Whyand.  My regime was now based on science (although it isn’t really an exact type!), that is checking the ‘at risk’  nutrient levels were OK (particularly ADEK and B12), taking supplements where necessary to help with deficiencies, and tackling things such as malabsorption and diet.

The patient has a big part to play in any improvement strategy, so in 2013/14 I experimented more and completely changed my breakfast and lunch regime to oatmeal/porridge and toast which made a significant difference. I started to avoid eating large meals and I reduced fat consumption generally. I started taking probiotics to counter the effect of any bacterial imbalance as a result of my surgery (i.e. to combat SIBO).  To keep track of everything, I set up and maintained a detailed diary to help identify things making it worse, tinkering as I went along. For those who are contemplating this sort of strategy, let me tell you – it takes time, effort and patience!

I seemed to make excellent progress with ‘frequency’, which is down to once or twice per day – i.e. I felt like a normal bloke 🙂 Quality was not consistently good but I’m of the opinion, this may be something I need to live with. Stomach cramps are reduced, as is gas and bloating reduced (I’m fairly confident that is mainly down to probiotics). Happy days, my strategy has worked.  I reduced my average daily ‘visits’ by 400% without any medicine. 

However …. (have you noticed, there’s always a ‘however’ with NET cancer?).

Although I’m generally well, I did start to think in 2016 that the balance was not quite right. My ‘visits’ were starting to last longer due to a consistent feeling of incomplete emptying – i.e. movement is OK but is followed by what seems like constipation. Additionally, I’ve had several episodes of constipation and pain with no ‘movement’ for 24-36 hours. This happened in May, September and December 2016.  Had 3 more episodes in 2017 and 2 so far in 2018.  My diary now has numerous ‘zero’ entries in the daily bowel movements column, something I never thought I would see again in my lifetime!

When you’ve had small intestinal surgery, as many midgut NET patients have, this sort of thing can be extremely worrying. A bowel obstruction can be dangerous and I’d like to avoid additional surgery at this stage. The second occurrence was particularly severe and the pain lasted for 1-2 weeks. Fortunately, the issues eventually settled and appear to have been a result of a sluggish system, although my regular scans check to see if any issues in that area might have been contributing. (Note – lactulose (oral) is awful, will never touch it again!). I seem to remember a few years ago thinking constipation would be a luxury.  I can assure you it isn’t – things need to keep moving, the opposite is much worse!

So … am I a victim of my own dietary regime success? Possibly.  The GP who assessed my constipation and pain in September 2016 told me to stop taking a Calcium supplement which was prescribed by the same practice at the beginning of that year – Calcium can slow your system down apparently (…..the calcium is a long story but it was a counter to an osteoporosis risk that I have due to long-term use of blood thinners).  I already get enough calcium (and vitamin D) through the normal channels plus supplements, so it was a low risk action. I tinkered with my diet again, reducing my fibre intake and then built up again slowly. Additionally, I could probably do with more water!  Perhaps my Lanreotide is having some effect too? In 2018, I changed my bread to one with less fibre as a test, nothing to report so far.

Is it just me with constipation issues? No….. I carried out some covert searches on forums and found this issue has been mentioned numerous times.

I suspect we need science and some specialist NET research in this area, not sure the over the counter prescription is the optimum solution.  I was therefore delighted to see a patient survey produced by NET Patient Foundation in conjunction with the Royal Free Hospital presented right in front of me in Barcelona at ENETS 2018.  In this survey (which I remember completing), they found that the most self reported side effect of somatostatin analogues was in actual fact constipation (shock horror!).

Tara poster
The poster as presented at ENETS 2018 – featuring Tara Whyand

As you can see from the picture, the survey results came along with some pertinent advice which you will already find in some of my articles co-authored by Tara Whyand who was involved in the survey results analysis.  Interestingly, Tara commented on the constipation figure pointing out that the constipated feeling may in fact be confused with ‘incomplete emptying’ as I indicated I was experiencing above.  I think she’s right.

self reported survey
Abstract posted at ENETS 2018

I’m always skeptical about patient surveys as they tend to be gathered from a very small percentage of the actual patient population and tend to be sourced from those with the worst issues (something I call ‘situating the appreciation’).  There’s a little skepticism in me about this particular survey, mainly because the results were not scientifically investigated i.e. were these self-reported side effects actually caused by somatostatin analogues or something else?

However, many of the things reported in this patient survey are issues that I know patients tend to talk about anecdotally in patient forums. Some of them are already listed on patient information leaflets (often without patients knowing I might add) so this is further confirmation of the official trial results.  Wide variances or new unlisted issues probably need looking at though.

Despite some of these side effects being listed, I believe doctors need to provide more support for patients who experience these issues.  So, even if constipation (or incomplete emptying) is not totally caused by somatostatin analogues, at least this survey should start up a dialogue.

p.s. I recently started taking Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy to combat some of the well known side effects of somatostatin analogues but not yet evaluated their overall impact with the above story.  Read about this and a Q & A session with Tara Whyand in this article – click here

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!

Neuroendocrine Cancer – were you irritated by your misdiagnosis?


irritable-bowel-syndrome

Look on any site about Neuroendocrine Tumours (NETs) and you’ll find the term IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) frequently mentioned. That’s because it’s a common misdiagnosis for many before being formally diagnosed with NETs.

But what exactly is IBS, why is it such a common misdiagnosis for many NET patients and how can these misdiagnoses be prevented or reduced in future?  I just spent a few hours doing an online training course on IBS and I want to pass on some stuff I found to be very useful. I have never been diagnosed with IBS but having researched the issue through some training, I can understand why it might be in the thoughts of a general practitioner for many scenarios.  Much of my research was focussed on the British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG) who sponsored the online course I completed which also used material from their magazine Gut, a leading international journal in gastroenterology.

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common, long-term condition of the digestive system. It can cause bouts of stomach cramps, bloating and excessive wind, diarrhoea and/or constipation, feeling of incomplete emptying, mucus in stool; and many other symptoms (see NHS IBS siteThe symptoms vary between individuals and affect some people more severely than others. They tend to come and go in periods lasting a few days to a few months at a time, often during times of stress or after eating certain foods.  IBS is a heterogeneous condition with a range of treatments.  There are in fact different classifications of IBS and the diagram below supports the list with some context:

    • IBS-D – diarrhea based
    • IBS-C – constipation based
    • IBS-M – mix of both diarrhea and constipation

ibs-types

You can see why someone presenting with diarrhea or IBS-D type symptoms might be automatically assumed to have IBS despite the fact that these symptoms could also apply to many other conditions including several cancers.  However, what I also found is that in the UK, there is now updated guidance from NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) to aid GPs and other physicians on how to properly diagnose IBS.  In fact, the online course I undertook is one of many now being offered to medical staff as part of the new guidance. That sounds like a good thing in practice (although I did notice some differences between the BSG recommendations and what is published by NICE…….. £ )

How is IBS diagnosed?

That is considerably complex as the symptoms are fairly general.  However, I was encouraged to find that doctors should assess any ‘red flag’ indicators that would need referral to secondary care before any firm decision on IBS was made. These include (but not limited to), unintentional and unexplained weight loss, rectal bleeding, family history of bowel or ovarian cancer, a change in bowel habit to looser and/or more frequent stools persisting for more than 6 weeks in a person aged over 60 years, anaemia, abdominal masses, rectal masses, inflammatory markers for inflammatory bowel disease.  That’s very interesting because in 2010, after mentioning some unintentional weight loss, my GP said ‘anaemia’ to me and referred me to secondary care.  Perhaps I was lucky but perhaps, my GP’s team were just professional and thorough?  That said, if you’re with me so far, you can see why IBS might be an easy diagnosis to make for someone presenting with either diarrhea/constipation issues with no other obvious symptoms or abnormal test results (particularly IBS-D).

Why might NETs be frequently misdiagnosed as IBS?

Using the NICE guidelines, I noted there are a range of tests to preclude other diagnoses including: full blood count (FBC), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or plasma viscosity, c‑reactive protein (CRP), antibody testing for Coeliac disease. Whilst abnormal results of these tests might show up something to investigate further (i.e. FBC – haemoglobin worked for me), none of them include looking ‘inside’ the patient and I guess there is a resource/finance issue involved here.

In fact, the guidelines also list a number of tests that are NOT necessary to confirm a diagnosis of IBS. These include: ultrasound, rigid/flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, barium enema, thyroid function test, faecal ova and parasite test, faecal occult blood, hydrogen breath test.  You can see the issues ………..

The guidelines go on to say that a diagnosis of IBS should be considered only if the person has abdominal pain or discomfort that is either relieved by defecation or associated with altered bowel frequency or stool form. This should be accompanied by at least two of the following four symptoms:

  • altered stool passage (straining, urgency, incomplete evacuation)
  • abdominal bloating (more common in women than men), distension, tension or hardness
  • symptoms made worse by eating
  • passage of mucus.

    Other features such as lethargy, nausea, backache and bladder symptoms are common in people with IBS, and may also be used to support the diagnosis

I also noted that the causes of IBS are inextricably linked with Psychological issues and the guidance also includes therapies including cognitive behavioural therapies (CBT) relaxation therapies, and hypnosis.

So if you’re one of the unlucky ones who has presented with “IBS like” symptoms and have normal test results as per above, you may not get the opportunity to get to further testing to find the true diagnosis. It’s possible that you saw a physician who has not followed guidelines for diagnosing IBS, if indeed such guidelines were available to him/her.  The inclusion of psychological issues also connects with many anecdotal stories of NET patients being told they needed psychological help before eventually being diagnosed with NETs.

I can see many similarities in the descriptions of IBS symptoms and the sort of things you can read on NET forums – curiously including the effects of NET Cancer surgery and other treatment after diagnosis.

Slight digression but if this subject is of interest, you may like to comment.  I once said to my Oncologist that I felt as if I had IBS since my surgery and somatostatin analogue treatment. In fact, I told him that I thought my bowel was more than irritated, it was bloody angry 🙂  During my research, I couldn’t help noticing that some of the suggestions and recommendations for IBS are similar to that offered to a post surgical NET patient.  You may therefore like my blog series on Nutrition which was co-authored by a NET specialist dietician who is also IBS aware.

Preventing or Reducing a Misdiagnosis of IBS (all illnesses)

The course looked at this angle as it was clearly keen to emphasise this to medical people going through the module.  The NICE guidelines read like a process which must be strictly followed but at the end of the day, they are just ‘guidance’ and should not stop doctors thinking outside the box.

A recent study suggested that as many as 1 in 6 patients (~16%) with symptoms of IBS had another disease.  Approximately 7% had Crohn’s disease, 3% coeliac disease, and 2% microscopic colitis when they were formally tested. Patients with IBS-diarrhoea predominant more often had abnormalities than those with IBS-constipation predominant (interesting for NETs).  The paper stresses the importance of tailored investigation of patients presenting for the first time.

One in six patients with symptoms compatible with IBS without alarm features in this selected group exhibited organic GI disease following investigation. Assessment of alarm features in a comprehensive history is vital to reduce diagnostic uncertainty that can surround IBS. You can, if you wish, read the abstract of the paper on the link below.

The issue here is that people not meeting the criteria for further checks may be precluded for scans and other tests due to lack of clinical evidence and their diagnosis of IBS will stand.  As this was a study, clearly some of them might have gone on to present with sufficient clinical evidence to warrant more checks and subsequent diagnosis of something else at a more advanced stage.  Clearly this sounds familiar with NETs.  However, looking at the figures above, I suspect the figures for NETs IBS misdiagnoses are pretty small in comparison to those who are correctly diagnosed with IBS.  To put that into context (in the UK), according to the NHS, IBS is thought to affect up to one in five people (10,000,000 in UK alone) at some point in their life, and it usually first develops when a person is between 20 and 30 years of age and around twice as many women are affected as men.  Compare that with a UK NETs prevalence of around 40,000 (guesstimate), you can see that a misdiagnosis of IBS for NETs, is not that common.  However, one misdiagnosis is one too many. 

Summary

Having done this course and read the accompanying references (some only abstracts), I can see the scope for people with many different illnesses being misdiagnosed with IBS. However, the use of alarm symptoms and ref flag indicators should be helping to reduce this. I’m guessing that many people in first line care may not be fully aware of the IBS guidelines to be able to take heed.  I’m also guessing that in the UK (at least), a 10 minute appointment with a busy GP is just not going to solve some of these symptom clashes and many visits might be required to move forward.

It’s really difficult to advise anyone going through a diagnosis of IBS as to how to approach a physician who says they have IBS and they think this is wrong.  In the case of NETs, other cardinal symptoms may be of use in convincing physicians (e.g. flushing).  Armed with this knowledge, I would say to anyone who suspects NETs but are faced with an IBS diagnosis, take a copy of the BSG and NICE guidelines to your doctor and tick off all the differential ‘ref flag’ and ‘alarms’ issues ensuring that each has been tested before accepting the IBS diagnosis.

References used to support compilation of this blog:

NHS Site – IBS

The IBS online course (it may expire depending on when you read this post)

Prevalence of organic disease at colonoscopy in patients with symptoms compatible with irritable bowel syndrome: cross-sectional survey (abstract only, not full article)

BSG Guidelines on the irritable bowel syndrome: mechanisms and practical management (full article)

NICE Guidance – Irritable bowel syndrome in adults

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

Disclaimer

My Diagnosis and Treatment History

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

 

Neuroendocrine Cancer – the diarrhea jigsaw

NETCancer Diarrhea Jigsaw

Diarrhea can be a symptom of many conditions but it is particularly key in Neuroendocrine Tumour (NET) Syndromes and types, in particular, Carcinoid Syndrome but also in those associated with various other NET types such as VIPoma, PPoma, Gastrinoma, Somatostatinoma, Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma.

Secondly, it can be a key consequence (side effect) of the treatment for Neuroendocrine Tumours and Carcinomas, in particular following surgery where various bits of the gastrointestinal tract are excised to remove and/or debulk tumour load.

There are other reasons that might be causing or contributing, including (but not limited to) endocrine problems such as hyperthryoidism, mastocytosis or Addison’s disease (which may be secondary illnesses in those with NETs).  It’s also possible that ‘non-sydromic’ issues such as stress and diet are contributing. It could be caused by other things such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Yes, believe it or not, NET Patients can get normal diarrhea causing diseases too!

Define Diarrhea

I want to give a general definition of diarrhea as there are many variants out there. In general, they all tend to agree that diarrhea is having more frequent, loose and watery stools. Three or more stools per day seems to be the generally accepted threshold, although some sites don’t put a figure on it.  It’s not pleasant and just about everyone on the planet will suffer it at some point in their life, perhaps with repeated episodes. Normally it’s related to some kind of bug, or something you’ve eaten and will only last a few days before it settles (acute diarrhea). Diarrhea lasting more than a couple of weeks is considered chronic and some people will require medical care to treat it.  It can also be caused by anxiety, a food allergy/intolerance or as a side effect of medicine. Pharmacists and GPs will be seeing many patients with this common ailment every single day of business.

Diarrhea induced by a Syndrome

When you consider the explanation above, it’s not really surprising that diarrhea related symptoms can delay a diagnosis of Neuroendocrine Cancer (and most likely other cancers too, e.g. pancreatic cancer, bowel cancer). For example, diarrhea is the second most common symptom of Carcinoid Syndrome (Flushing is actually the most common) and is caused mainly by the oversecretion of the hormone Serotonin from the tumours. Please note diarrhea in other types of syndromes or NETs may be caused by other hormones, for example it may also be caused by excess calcitonin in the case of Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma or VIP in the case of a functional pNET known as VIPoma. I’ve heard stories of people being told they have IBS or something similar for years before they received what is now a late diagnosis and at an advanced cancer stage. This is only one of the reasons why NETs is not an easy condition to diagnose, although it is possible that some people actually had IBS and it was masking the NET. Even after treatment to remove or reduce tumours, many people will remain syndromic and need assistance and treatment to combat diarrhea induced by a NET syndrome (see below).

Diarrhea as a Consequence (Side effect) of Treatment for Neuroendocrine Cancer and Other Conditions

All cancer treatments can have consequences and Neuroendocrine Cancer is definitely no exception here. For example, if they chop out several feet of small intestine, a chunk of your large intestine, chunks (or all) of your stomach or your pancreas, your gallbladder and bits of your liver, this is going to have an effect on the efficiency of your ‘waste disposal system’. One effect is that it will now work faster! Another is that the less effective ‘plumbing’ may not be as efficient as it was before.  There are also knock-on effects which may create additional issues with the digestive system including but not limited to; Malabsorption and SIBO.  I recommend you read my posts on Malabsorption and SIBO.

Surgery can often be the root cause of diarrhea.  A shorter gut for example, means shorter transit times presenting as increased frequency of bowel movements.  Another example is the lack of terminal ileum can induce Bile Acids Malabsorption (BAM) (sometimes known as Bile Salts Malabsorption) in degrees of severity based on size of resection. Lack of a gallbladder (common with NETs) can also complicate.  Bile Acids are produced in the liver and have major roles in the absorption of lipids in the small intestine. Following a terminal ileum resection which includes a right hemicolectomy, there is a risk that excess Bile Acids will leak into the large intestine (colon) via the anastomosis (the new joint between small and large intestines).  This leakage can lead to increased motility, shortening the colonic transit time, and so producing watery diarrhea (or exacerbating an existing condition). Although this condition can be treated using bile acid sequestrants (i.e.  Questran), it can be difficult to pinpoint it as the cause.

Surgery of the pancreas can also produce effects such as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency which can lead to a malabsorption condition known as steatorrhea which may be confused with diarrhea (although some texts call it a type of diarrhea).   It isn’t really diarrhea but it may look like it given the presentation of the faeces and patients may suffer both diarrhea and steatorrhea concurrently.  Patients will recognise it in their stools which may be floating, foul-smelling, greasy (oily) and frothy looking. Treatment options will mainly include the use of Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy or PERT for short (Creon etc).

Many non-surgical treatments can also cause diarrhea, including but not limited to; somatostatin analogues (see below), chemotherapy, biological targeted therapy (e.g. Everolimus, Sunitinib), radiotherapy.

Somatostatin analogues are an interesting one as they are designed to inhibit secretion of particular hormones and peptides by binding to the receptors found on Neuroendocrine tumour cells. This has the knock-on effect of inhibiting digestive/pancreatic enzymes which are necessary to break down the fat in our foods leading to Malabsorption of important nutrients.  This may worsen the steatorrhea in pancreatic NET patients but also lead to steatorrhea in others with non-pancreatic locations who have been prescribed these drugs.

Other conditions may actually be the cause of the diarrhea or the treatment for those conditions.  For example, it is possible that people actually do have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  Treatment therapy for common conditions may also be contributing, for example the use of Proton Pump Inhibitors for acid reflux.

 

Treatment for Syndrome Induced Diarrhea 

Like many other NET patients, I’m on a 28 day injection of somatostatin analogues (in my case Lanreotide).  Both Octreotide and Lanreotide are designed to reduce the effects of NET syndromes and therefore can often make a difference to syndrome induced diarrhea. These drugs also have anti-tumour effect and so even if you are not syndromic or they do not halt or adequately control syndrome induced diarrhea, they are still a valuable contribution to NET treatment.

Some syndromic patients find they still have diarrhea despite somatostatin analogues and they end up having ‘rescue shots’ or pumps for relief (both of these methods tend to be Octreotide based).  (Hopefully they are not getting confused between diarrhea caused by the non-syndrome effects – see above).  Some have more frequent injections of the long acting versions of somatostatin analogues which has the effect of increasing the dosage.  There’s a new drug available for those whose carcinoid syndrome induced diarrhea is not adequately controlled or perhaps they are unable to have somatostatin analogues as a treatment. Telotristat Ethyl works by inhibiting tryptophan hydroxylase (TPH), a chemical reactor involved in the manufacture of serotonin, which is the main cause of syndrome induced diarrhea.  It was approved by the US FDA in February 2017, EU areas in September 2017, and is on the way to being approved elsewhere.  Read about this drug here.

telotristat-etiprate-clinical-trial-serotonin-as-a-key-driver-of-carcinoid-syndrome

Sorting out the symptoms – post diagnosis

I like to describe this as the Neuroendocrine Cancer jigsaw. It’s a really difficult one and sometimes you cannot find a piece, or the pieces won’t fit. However, metaphorically speaking, the missing piece might be a NET specialist presentation, a comment, statement or view from another patient, a link to an article from a reputable source, or even something you do to improve your lot – there might even be trial and error involved. It might even be this blog post!

How do you work out whether diarrhea is caused by a hormone producing tumour or by the side effects of treatments? There’s no easy answer to this as both might be contributing. One crude but logical way is to just accept that if you have normal hormone markers, for example 5HIAA (there could be more for other tumour/syndrome types), and you’re not really  experiencing any of the other classic symptoms, then your syndrome might be under control due to your treatment (e.g. debulking surgery and/or somatostatin analogues, or another drug). My Oncologist labels me as ‘non-syndromic’ – something which I agree with. I’m 99.999999% sure my issues are as a result of the treatment I’ve had and am receiving.

This disease is so individual and there are many factors involved including the type of syndrome/NET, patient comorbidities and secondary illnesses, consequences of the surgery or treatments performed, side effects of drugs – all of which is intermingled with suspicion and coincidence – it’s that jigsaw again!  I always like to look in more detail to understand why certain things might be better than others, I always challenge the ‘status quo’ looking to find a better ‘normal’.  I really do think there are different strategies for syndrome induced diarrhea and that which is a result of treatment or a side effect of treatment.  There’s also different prices, with inhibitors costing thousands, whilst classic anti-diarrhea treatments are just a few pennies.  Adjustments to diets are free!

When I was discharged from hospital after the removal of my small intestinal primary, I was in the toilet A LOT (I was actually in the toilet a lot before I was discharged – check out my primary surgery blogs here) .  My surgeon did say it would take months to get back to ‘normal’ – he was right and it did eventually settle – although my new ‘toilet normal’ was soft and loose and several times daily.  My previously elevated CgA and 5HIAA were eventually back to normal and my flushing had disappeared.  I didn’t have too many issues with diarrhea before diagnosis.  Deduction:  my issues are most likely not syndrome induced.

I read that many people find basic ‘Loperamide’ (Imodium) helps and I tend to agree with that if you are non syndromic and just need that little bit of help.  I decided long time ago I would not become ‘hooked’ and only really take it for two purposes:  1) if I have a bad patch and 2) if I’m going on a long journey (i.e. on a plane perhaps).  I estimate I’ve used 4 packets in as many years.  Loperamide decreases the activity which causes intestinal motility (peristalsis). This has the effect of increasing the time material stays in the intestine therefore allowing more water to be absorbed from the fecal matter.  Ideal for those with a shorter bowel due to surgery and advice from a medical professional is always advisable.  To reduce the risk of malabsorption induced diarrhea and steatorrhoea, both of which can lead to loss of valuable nutrients, the use of Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT) might need to be introduced as required by your NET specialist.

Have a look at Enterade – the results from trials look good.

enterade

Clearly, I cannot offer any professional medical advice on coping with diarrhea, I can only discuss my own situation and what I found worked for me. Don’t forget, like many diseases, what works for one, might not work for another. However, I did tackle my problems following the advice of an experienced dietitian who specialises in NET Cancer. That said, I was ‘sleep walking’ for over 2 years thinking my issues were just part of the way things were after my treatment.  I was wrong about that!

As for my own strategy,  here’s things that helped me:

  • made some changes to diet (they were not huge changes),
  • included supplementation where necessary,
  • reduced stress as far as is practical to do,
  • exercise,
  • maintained a diary to help with monitoring progress or setbacks,
  • hydration is also important (….still working on that one).
  • started taking PERT (Creon) on 23 Dec 2017 (changed to Nutrizym Feb 2019) but looks reasonably positive so far.

With no fancy and expensive drugs, I’ve gone from 6-8 visits to 1-2 visits (as a daily average, it’s actually 1.5).  This didn’t happen overnight though, it took a lot of time and patience.  All of this doesn’t mean to say I don’t have issues from time to time …… because I do!


In summary, I think it’s important that people be sure what is actually causing their diarrhea after diagnosis so that the right advice and the optimum treatment can be given.

Listen to Dr Wolin talking about this particular jigsaw puzzle – click here

Also see a nice article that come out of NANETS 2017 – click here

Of course, some people sometimes have the opposite effect but that’s in another blog here – Constipation

Thanks for reading

Ronny

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