Diagnosing the Undiagnosed


Neuroendocrine Cancer is one of a number of “difficult to diagnose” conditions. Many types of Neuroendocrine Cancer come with an associated syndrome and these syndromes can mimic everyday illnesses. In some cases, many people don’t feel ill while the tumours grow. Most types of this cancer are slow-growing but there are also aggressive versions. Although things appear to be improving in diagnostic terms, it can sometimes take years for someone to be finally diagnosed correctly and get treatment, albeit in some cases, too late for any hope of a curative scenario. It’s a very sneaky type of cancer and if left too long it can be life threatening – CLICK HERE to find out why.

The road to a diagnosis of Neuroendocrine Cancer is often not straight or easy to navigate. It’s not only a sneaky type of cancer but it’s also very complex. It’s a heterogeneous group of malignancies with a varied and confusing histology and nomenclature to match. As I said above, many people are asymptomatic for years whilst the tumor grows and some might say that it’s somewhat ‘lucky’ to have symptoms to help aid a diagnosis. Many find that a lack of knowledge of Neuroendocrine Cancer in primary care, doesn’t always produce results. Common misdiagnoses include (but not limited to), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other common digestive diseases, menopause, appendicitis, hypertension, gastritis, asthma. Neuroendocrine Cancer is much more likely to be diagnosed at secondary care if a referral for ‘something’ can be achieved.

……..cue internet searches (Dr Google)

I think the rise and the power of the internet and rise of social media applications is very much helping generate awareness and knowledge of Neuroendocrine Cancer and those looking for a diagnosis may find help in this way. I suspect this instant access to information has played its part in the diagnostic improvements I mentioned above. Take my own efforts for example, I’m a wee Scottish guy with a computer and I’m already accelerating towards a million blog views – there’s clearly a market for what I produce. In terms of those looking for a diagnosis, if only one gets an earlier diagnosis due to my site, I’ll be happy.

Unfortunately, the internet can often be a minefield and in many cases, can lead to quite unnecessary worry for those looking for a solution.

Incoming Questions

I’m contacted almost daily by the ‘undiagnosed’ who suspect they have Neuroendocrine Cancer, often because they appear to be displaying the symptoms of one of the associated syndromes. These are some of my most difficult questions. I’m always very wary of initially agreeing with their assumptions and logic, instead opting for straightforward detective work based on my knowledge of the different types of Neuroendocrine Cancer, knowledge of the best scans, tumour markers, hormone markers. And I always warn them that statistically, they are more likely to have a common condition than the less common Neuroendocrine Cancer.

Many have already had multiple doctor’s appointments and tests. If they have not yet had a scan, I encourage them to try to get one ‘by hook or by crook’. Despite what you read on patient forums and surveys, the vast majority of Neuroendocrine diagnoses will be triggered by a conventional imaging such as CT and/or MRI. If you can see it, you can detect it.

When I first chat with the ‘undiagnosed’, I find many of them are fairly knowledgeable about Neuroendocrine Cancer and other health conditions, again confirming the power of the internet and the savvy ‘internet patient’. This is fine if you look in the right places of course – for certain things there are more wrong places on the internet than right ones.

If I have time, I’m happy to chat with these people, some are very frustrated – in fact some are so frustrated that they just want a diagnosis of something even if that something is really bad. However, what do you say to someone who is utterly convinced they have Neuroendocrine Cancer but CT/MRI/Octreoscan/Ga68 PET are all clear, Chromogranin A and 5HIAA are in range but they still say they have diarrhea with its potential for literally thousands of differential diagnoses. It’s a tough gig.

Example:

My scan came back normal. That should be good news. But, if there is no tumor, how can I be suffering from all the symptoms of carcinoid syndrome? Is that diagnosis wrong? Are the urine and blood test results wrong? I’m awaiting a MRI scan to take another look to see if the doctor can find anything. I don’t know what they’ll find. I don’t want them to find anything. But I’m afraid of what will happen if they don’t.

Anon

Patient Forums

I always let the undiagnosed know that Neuroendocrine Cancer patients are some of the most friendliest and helpful people you can meet, they will treat you as one of their own. There will be a number of diagnosed people online who have gone through what the undiagnosed are going through, so they will both sympathise and emphasise. But … this can often have the adverse effect of pushing them into believing they must have Neuroendocrine Cancer. This makes for interesting discussions given the number of people who automatically assume that ‘flushing’ or ‘diarrhea’ (as described by the undiagnosed) must be Neuroendocrine Cancer without any reference to the many differential diagnoses and the context of what that actually means in Neuroendocrine Cancer terms.

10 Questions to ask your doctor/specialist for those Diagnosed with Neuroendocrine Cancer (and where to find a specialist)

I once wrote an article for DIAGNOSED NET Patients suggesting 10 Questions to ask their doctor. So I wanted to take a step back in context, using the knowledge I now have, and put myself in the shoes of someone who thinks they may have Neuroendocrine Cancer but is not yet diagnosed.

Key questions to ask your doctor/specialist for those trying to confirm or discount Neuroendocrine Cancer

Dear undiagnosed people. I totally understand your fear. There’s nothing worse than being ill and not knowing what illness you have. I’ve therefore compiled a list of 3 key questions for you to ask – think of it as a tick list of things to ask your doctor to do or check . I have linked several background articles for you to prepare your case. However, I cannot promise your doctor will agree or take any action, in fact some might be annoyed about the lack of trust. However, doing your homework really helps, including diaries and other evidence.

I also wouldn’t say that a negative to all the questions will mean you definitely do not have Neuroendocrine Cancer but at least these questions might provide your doctor and yourself with some food for thought, perhaps leading to the diagnosis of ‘something’. The questions below assume that routine blood tests have been done, including Full Blood Count, Liver, Renal, Bone, Glucose.

Questions for the UNDIAGNOSED to ask their treating physician

“I think I might have a type of cancer known as Neuroendocrine Cancer or Neuroendocrine Tumours (NET) because <<< insert your own story>>>. Would you please consider the following tests and checks:”

1. Chromogranin A (CgA) is a marker which is quite sensitive for Neuroendocrine Tumours, essentially measuring tumour bulk potentially indicating the presence of Neuroendocrine Tumours. There can be other reasons for an elevated CgA figure, including the patient’s use of proton pump inhibitors (PPI) (see the article for an alterative test where this is the case). Read more here – Neuroendocrine Cancer – Tumour and Hormone Marker tests.

2. 5HIAA is a hormone marker for the most common type of NET, particularly if the patient is presenting with flushing and diarrhea. Many NETs have associated syndromes and hormone markers can be a guide to help with diagnostics. Read more about 5HIAA and other hormone markers for different types of NET and different syndromes here Neuroendocrine Cancer – Tumour and Hormone Marker tests.

3. Scans. Most NETs can be seen on a CT scan although liver metastasis can often show more clearly on an MRI. There are also nuclear scan options to confirm conventional imaging findings. Some NETs may be accessible via endoscopy and ultrasounds can also give hints for further investigation. In some cases, nuclear scans will find things that conventional imaging cannot because radionuclides can normally pick up oversecreting tumours. Read more in my article “If you can see it, you can detect it”.

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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64Cu-DOTATATE – a potential expansion of the Somatostatin Receptor PET Imaging for Neuroendocrine Cancer?

Curium and RadioMedix Inc. announce an exclusive agreement to develop and commercialize 64Cu-Dotatate, an investigational positron emission tomography (PET) diagnostic agent for patients with Neuroendocrine Tumors (NETs). RadioMedix is currently engaged in Phase III clinical trials of the agent and expects to file a New Drug Application with the Food and Drug Administration in 2019. This partnership builds on the initial development work conducted by RadioMedix and will benefit from Curium’s regulatory, manufacturing, distribution, and commercial expertise. The radionuclide is not new, it’s been in use for some time, mainly in Denmark.

64Cu is a PET isotope that can be produced at a central location in quantities to meet the commercial needs of hospitals and imaging centers without the supply limitations of nuclear generator-based PET isotopes,” said Ebrahim Delpassand, MD, CEO of RadioMedix. “Once approved, 64Cu-Dotatate will be available to patients in medical centers with PET capability across the country. This will address the shortage or lack of availability of somatostatin analogue PET agents that we are currently experiencing in many parts of the U.S.”

Ga68 PET Shortages explained

This statement is in relation to the current shortage of Ga68 PET radionuclide. For those not aware, the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) has written a letter to the FDA about ongoing shortages of generators that produce gallium-68 (Ga-68), a radioisotope used regularly in medical imaging. The letter—available here.

The letter explains that Ga-68 is currently used to produce NETSPOT from Advanced Accelerator Applications (a Novartis company), which was approved in June 2016 to help treat neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) in adult and pediatric patients using PET. NETSPOT, however, is only approved using specific generators. And those generators are only approved for either 400 uses or one year, whichever comes first. This has led to shortages throughout the United States.

SNMMI notes some possible remedies for this shortage. For instance, “a temporary exemption to the 400-elution limit would have a major impact on NETSPOT capacity for patients,” according to the letter. In addition, using a wider variety of generators to produce NETSPOT or using cyclotron-produced gallium chloride are two other methods that could improve production in a relatively short amount of time. “Further discussion with the manufacturers is necessary,” the authors added.

Read more about Ga68 PET and its use in Neuroendocrine Cancer – click here. Worth also noting that RadioMedix is also involved in a number of NET related initiatives including:

1. Trials for a new type of PRRT called ‘Targeted Alpha-emitter Therapy (TAT) – I’ve written about this previously. Read my article here.
2. An exclusive distributor for the TM Isotopen Technologien München AG (ITM) PRRT product currently in trial. I wrote about this here.

How does 64Cu-Dotatate compare with Ga68 PET and Octreotide Scans?

To learn more about previous studies on 64Cu-Dotatate, here’s 2 articles published in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine which are a head to head comparison of 64Cu-Dotatate with Ga68 Dotatoc and with 111 Indium Octreotide (Octreoscan).

Head-to-Head Comparison of 64Cu-DOTATATE and 68Ga-DOTATOC PET/CT: A Prospective Study of 59 Patients with Neuroendocrine Tumors – http://jnm.snmjournals.org/content/58/3/451.full

PET/CT (left) and PET (right) scans of patient with intestinal NET and multiple metastases. More lesions are seen in intestinal region with 64Cu-DOTATATE than with 68Ga-DOTATOC.

Conclusion: 64Cu-DOTATATE has advantages over 68Ga-DOTATOC in the detection of lesions in NET patients. Although patient-based sensitivity was the same for 64Cu-DOTATATE and 68Ga-DOTATOC in this cohort, significantly more lesions were detected by 64Cu-DOTATATE. Furthermore, the shelf life of more than 24 h and the scanning window of at least 3 h make 64Cu-DOTATATE favorable and easy to use in the clinical setting.

64Cu-DOTATATE PET for Neuroendocrine Tumors: A Prospective Head-to-Head Comparison with 111In-DTPA-Octreotide in 112 Patients –http://jnm.snmjournals.org/content/56/6/847.full

Multiple small liver metastases (>10), peritoneal solitary tumor mass, and 3 lymph node metastases shown on 64Cu-DOTATATE PET/CT in patient with pancreatic NET. No foci were detected by 111In-DTPA-OC SPECT (Precedence scanner). All findings on PET were confirmed to be true-positive. (A) 111In-DTPA-OC planar images. (B) 64Cu-DOTATATE maximum-intensity-projection image with arrows pointing at liver and lymph node metastases. Insert is fused PET/CT of peritoneal solitary tumor mass. (C) Axial CT and SPECT of liver. (D) Axial CT and PET of liver revealing several small liver metastases.

Conclusion: With these results, we demonstrate that 64Cu-DOTATATE is far superior to 111In-DTPA-OC in diagnostic performance in NET patients. Therefore, we do not hesitate to recommend implementation of 64Cu-DOTATATE as a replacement for 111In-DTPA-OC.

Summary

The shortage of Ga68 PET radionuclide caused by limitations of the generators in use is unfortunate. Reading the SNMMI letter, I think progress can be made downstream. However, the introduction of a new scanning agent could be useful as long as the trials prove its safety and efficiently and is comparable to current tools. There is no news of any plans to extend this potential new radionuclide outside the US but I suspect that would change following an FDA approval.

If you can see it, you can detect it!

Thanks for reading

Ronny

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Update: Management of Neuroendocrine Tumors

This is an excellent and positive video based overview of where we are with the Management of NETs.  This is a presentation from a NET Specialist (who some of you may know) presenting to a “GI Malignancies” conference.  This is therefore not only awareness of NETs, it’s also some good education for non NET GI experts who may only know the very basics. Useful for patients too!  I met Dr Strosberg in Barcelona (ENETS 2017) and thanked him for his presentational and scientific paper output which I often use in my articles.

The classification picture is good as it explains the different facets of NETs and how NETs are classified and categorised in a general way – not seen it done this way before.   Slightly out of date as it does not adequately convey the possibility of a well differentiated high grade recently classified by the World Health Organisation – read more here.

Amazingly it is delivered without using the word ‘carcinoid’ other than in reference to syndrome, indicating it can be done and is something also being reflected in all my posts to ensure they are up to date with the latest nomenclature.  It’s also a good example for GI doctors as this branch of medicine is often involved in NET diagnostics and surveillance.

Excellent update of all the trials which have introduced treatments in the last decade.

Screenshot 2017-12-12 16.34.54

Great update and worth the 30 minutes it takes to watch – you can view it CLICK HERE.

 

 

All graphics courtesy of www.oncologytube.com

Thanks for reading

Ronny

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Neuroendocrine Cancer – normally slow but always sneaky?

cancer-rates

There’s a lot of scary diseases in this world but some of them are particularly spooky.  One such spooky disease is the lesser known type of cancer that infiltrated my body – Neuroendocrine Cancer (aka Neuroendocrine Tumors or NET for short).  Not only is it scary and spooky, but it’s also cunning, devious, misleading, double-crossing, and it likes nothing better than to play tricks on you.

It will grow in your body without you knowing.  It finds places to hide, mainly the small intestine, appendix, lungs, stomach, pancreas, rectum and a host of other places. It can be fiendishly small to avoid being seen.  Once it’s established in the primary location (….or locations), it will try to break out via your blood and lymphatic systems.  It wants to establish other bases in your mesentery, your liver, your lymph nodes, your bones and any other place it can get to.

It can often be uncannily quiet, not showing any symptoms. However, sometimes it wants to have fun and often over-secrete certain hormones to add or introduce symptoms which mimic many other diseases such as IBS, asthma, abdominal upset, diarrhea, flushing. These are just more tricks up its sleeve.  You will go to your doctor, perhaps many times, to report what looks like routine/regular symptoms. Unfortunately, it’s also really good at tricking your doctors. After several visits and despite your concerns, your doctors could become so frustrated that nothing serious is obvious, they might even start to think it’s all in your head. This is exactly what Neuroendocrine Cancer wants, it’s just getting started.

One particular type of NET has a wicked trick up its sleeve.  This one will over-secrete a hormone called Serotonin which can often cause fibrosis in your abdominal area, potentially causing obstructions and damage to major organs and blood vessels.  It’s not finished though, it will also try to introduce fibrosis to the right side of your heart causing more life threatening issues. In addition to common symptoms of flushing, this type and others will also make you feel weak, fatigued, pain, agitated, anxious, dizzy, nauseous, jaundiced, acid reflux, skin irritation, anemic, lose weight and give you heart palpitations.  It’s a real Witch’s Brew of symptoms.  Its main trick is to prevent you from being correctly diagnosed and it’s pretty good at it.

However, it has a ‘finale’ trick.  Neuroendocrine Cancer actually wants to kill you, and if it’s left to plough its relentless path throughout your body, that’s exactly what it will do, slowly but surely. 

It’s not just slow and scary, it can also be deadly. Spread the word and help save a life.

If you are suspicious you have Neuroendocrine Cancer but not yet formally diagnosed, you may appreciate this article.

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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patients included
This is a Patients Included Site

 

Can NETs be cured?

cure quote

OPINION:

“Cured” – In cancer, this word can evoke a number of emotions. Interestingly, not all these emotions will be as positive as you might think. If you want to spark a heated debate on a Neuroendocrine Cancer patient forum, just mention that you’ve been cured.

I’ve been living with Neuroendocrine Cancer for 8 years so I must be cured, right? Unfortunately not as straightforward as this, and I’m guessing this is the case for many cancers. Doctors clearly need to be careful when saying the word “cured‘ even if there is a small likelihood that a cancer will recur.  There’s plenty of ‘conservative’ and alternative terms that can be used, such as ‘stable’, ‘no evidence of disease (NED)’, ‘in remission’ or ‘complete response’.  However, I don’t see the latter two much in Neuroendocrine disease circles.

So with all these ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, what exactly is a cure?

Answering this question isn’t a simple case of ‘yes’ or ‘no’, because it depends on the way that the term ‘cancer’ is defined. It should actually be viewed as an umbrella term for a collection of hundreds of different diseases. They all share the fundamental characteristic of rogue cells growing out of control, but each type of cancer, and each person’s individual cancer, is unique and comes with its own set of challenges.

That’s why it’s very unlikely that there will be one single cure that can wipe out all cancers. That doesn’t mean individual cases of cancer can’t be cured. Many cancers in fact already can be. Scientists aren’t actually on the hunt for a ‘silver bullet’ against all cancers, Quite the opposite. The more scientists get to know each type of cancer inside and out, the greater the chance of finding new ways to tackle these diseases so that more people can survive. Thanks to a much deeper understanding of cell biology and genetics, there exist today a growing number of targeted therapies that have been designed at a molecular level to recognise particular features specific of cancer cells. Along with chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy, these treatments—used singly and in combination—have led to a slow, but steady, increase in survival rates. You can definitely count Neuroendocrine Cancer in that category.

Cancer is seen today less as a disease of specific organs, and more as one of molecular mechanisms caused by the mutation of specific genes. The implication of this shift in thinking is that the best treatment for, say, colorectal cancer may turn out to be designed and approved for use against tumors in an entirely different part of the body, such as the breast. We’re certainly seeing that with certain targeted therapies and more recently with Immunotherapy.

Surely a cure is more possible if cancer is diagnosed earlier?

To a certain extent this is true for many types of cancer, not just for NETs.  In fact the same scientists did say ….”We detect those attacks when they’re still early, before the cancers have widely spread, at a time when they can still be cured simply by surgery or perhaps surgery and adjuvant therapy, which always works better on smaller tumors.”.  

What about Neuroendocrine Tumors (NETs)?  Clearly I’m not qualified to make such statements except to say that I am of the opinion that earlier diagnosis is better for any curative scenario.  When you read NET guidelines (ENETS/NANETS etc), the word ‘cure’ and ‘curative’ is mentioned in relation to surgery.  Bearing in mind that our most expert NET specialists are involved in the drafting of these guidelines, perhaps we should pause and think before dismissing these claims.  Having checked ENETS publications, I can see it’s related to certain conditions and factors such as localisation within the organ, tumour size, good resection margins, and a suitable follow-up surveillance.

Clearly with advanced disease, the cancer becomes incurable but treatment for many being palliative to reduce tumor bulk and reduce any symptoms and/or syndrome effects. Despite this, the outlook for metastatic NETs at the lower grades is good. While we’re talking about palliative care, do not confuse this with end of life, that is only one end of the palliative spectrum.  It can and is used at the earliest stage of cancer.

Immunotherapy will eventually cure cancer, right?

Immunotherapy will play a huge part in cancer treatment in the future, that we know.  But to suggest that it’s a cure is probably overstating its current success.  Neuroendocrine Cancer has not been forgotten – you can read more about Neuroendocrine Cancer and Immunotherapy here.

I heard the Oncolytic Virus at Uppsala is a cure for NETs?

There is currently no scientific evidence that the Oncolytic Virus (AdVince) can cure humans with Neuroendocrine Cancer.  So far it has only been proven in destroying neuroendocrine tumours in mice. The Oncolytic Viruses developed in Uppsala are now being evaluated in phase I clinical trials for neuroendocrine cancer.  If you’re not up to speed with this trial, read more here – Oncolytic Virus Uppsala

Isn’t prevention better than a cure?

This old adage is still relevant BUT latest thinking would indicate it is not applicable to all cancers.  Scientists claim that 66% of cancer is  simply a form of ‘bad luck’ and if the claim is accurate, it follows that many cancers are simply inevitable. The thinking suggests that random errors occurring during DNA replication in normal stem cells are a major contributing factor in cancer development confirming that “bad luck” explains a far greater number of cancers than do hereditary and environmental factors. This scientific thinking is a tad controversial so it’s worth remembering that even if, as this study suggests, most individual cancer mutations are due to random chance, the researchers also admit that the cancers they cause may still be preventable. It’s complex!

The newspapers are always talking about breakthroughs and cures for cancer?

Newspapers looking for a good headline will use words such as ‘cure’. Sadly, headlines are generally written by sub-editors who scan the article and look to find a ‘reader-oriented angle’ for the heading. They either can’t or don’t have time to understand what’s actually being said. Unfortunately this then leads to people sharing what is now a misleading article without a thought for the impact on those who are worried about the fact they have cancer and whether it can be cured or not.  There’s also a lot of fake health news out there – check out my article series about the problems with the internet and ‘Miracle Cures’.

To cure, they must know the cause?  

To a certain extent, that’s very accurate.  Have you ever wondered what caused your NETs?  I did ponder this question in an article here.  The only known cause of NETs is currently the proportion of patients with heredity syndromes – see my article of Genetics and Neuroendocrine Cancer.  Interestingly, the NET Research Foundation recently awarded funding to look at the causes of Small Intestine (SI) NETs (one of the most common types).  A scientific collaboration between UCL, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, UCSF Medical Centre and the UCL Cancer Institute / Royal Free Hospital London. The team’s approach has the potential to identify inherited, somatic (non-inherited) genetic, epigenetic and infectious causes of SI-NETs.  The research is questioning whether SI-NETs are caused by DNA changes in later life or by aberrant genes inherited at birth; environmental influences or infectious agents – or is it a combination of all these factors?  Very exciting. Read more here.

What would a cure mean to those living with NETs?

This is something that has crossed my mind, even though I don’t believe it will happen in my lifetime.  I guess it would be good to get rid of the known remnant tumors left behind from my treatment (and any micrometastases currently not detectable).  However, many NET patients are living with the consequences of cancer and its treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy, biological therapy, somatostatin analogues, radionuclide therapy, liver directed therapy, and others.  Many of these effects would remain – let’s face it, a cure is not going to give me back bits of my small and large intestine, liver and an army of lymph nodes. So support for those living with NETs would need to remain despite a cure.

Summary

The emotional aspect of the word ‘cured’ seems to be an issue across many cancers and it’s certainly very controversial in NET circles.  The world has still not cured the many cancers that exist. But over the next five to ten years the era of personalised medicine could see enormous progress in making cancer survivable.  I think both doctors and patients need to take a pragmatic view on the ‘cured’ word and to end this article I wanted to share an interesting quote I found whilst researching.

cure quote

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!

Did you mean to lose weight?

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 I’ve used to header this article – “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!

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.  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. 
  • Hyperthyroidism 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.

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

Most Popular Posts

Sign up for my twitter newsletter

Read my Cure Magazine contributions

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

Genetics and Neuroendocrine Tumors


In my article ‘Ever wonder what caused your NET’, I concluded that currently, the only known scientifically explained causes for NETs were heredity/genetic in nature.  This is mostly associated with those who have MEN syndromes (yes, they are a syndrome not a type of tumour) and a few other less common types of NET including Pheochomocytoma/Paraganglioma (Pheo/Para) and Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma (MTC) (the familial version of MTC is often referred to as FMTC). However, please note this does not mean that all those diagnosed with pancreatic, parathyroid, pituarity, Pheo/Para and MTC tumours, will have any heredity or genetic conditions, many will simply be sporadic tumors.

In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that a number of Neuroendocrine tumours arise as a result of germline genetic mutations and are inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern. The number of genes implicated is increasing.

Apparently, 5-10% of Gastroenteropancreatic NETs (GEP NETs) are estimated to have a hereditary background. Syndromes associated with these include Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN), Von Hippel Lindau (VHL), Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1), Tuberous Sclerosis (TS) and others. People who have a genetic condition may present with the tumors (perhaps along with an associated syndrome) and so the genetic condition if there is one, may not be known at this point.  Thus why I was interested in a paper published in Springer Link last week – titled “When should genetic testing be performed in patients with neuroendocrine tumours.”  When reading, you’ll find it’s actually much more than that! Check it out here:

Crossref DOI link: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11154-017-9430-3

In this review, the authors examined the features which may lead a clinician to suspect that a patient may have an inherited cause of a NET and they outlined which underlying conditions should be suspected. They also discussed what type of screening may be appropriate in a variety of situations. If there is a way to identify which patients are likely to have a germline mutation, this would enable clinicians to counsel patients adequately about their future disease risk, and allows for earlier detection of at-risk patients through family screening. There’s a couple of minor errors in the text but I’ve contacted the authors.

The authors focused on presentations of NETs of the gastrointestinal system, chromaffin cell tumours (Pheochromocytoma and Paraganglioma) and Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma. Pituitary tumors (normally associated with MEN1), were not considered in scope for the review.  Interesting, the review includes news of a move by endocrinologists to reclassify ‘Pituitary Adenomas’ as Pituitary NETs (PitNETs). Read the abstract here.  This would appear to be in line with a gradual shift from the benign nomenclature associated with certain NETs to the ‘malignant’ potential of these type of tumors.  The abbreviation is also in line with others, e.g. pNET, SiNET, etc.  A useful reminder that we must stop using the term ‘Carcinoid‘ as this is regressing this extremely useful initiative to highlight the malignant potential of all NETs.

There also appears to be some linkage to the study looking at the possibility of familial Small Intestine NETs (SiNETs).  You can read more about a US registered trial here (with apologies for use of the now defunct term ‘Carcinoid‘).

This is a complex subject and the text above is very basic. If you wish to dig further, the quoted reference is a good read.  Just to emphasise, it’s aim is to provide advice about when to recommend genetic testing for NETs, and in doing so provides some useful reference information.  It’s broken down into 4 distinct tumor groupings:

1.  Gastroenteropancreatic (GEP NETs)

2.  Bronchial/Thymic NETs

3.  Pheochromocytoma/Paraganglioma (however, since this study, there has been an update to Pheochromocytoma/Paraganglioma genes – see here please.

4.  Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma

You may also find this article from the National Cancer Institute very useful.  It has a wider scope but a different aim. Genetics of Endocrine and Neuroendocrine Neoplasias (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version”

I also noted the UKINETS Guidelines for NETs has a section on genetics and includes something called Carney Complex.

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

Most Popular Posts

Sign up for my twitter newsletter

Read my Cure Magazine contributions

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

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NETwork with Ronny © – Community Newsletter SEPTEMBER 2017

Hi NETworkers!

Welcome to my monthly ‘Community’ newsletter. This is September 2017’s monthly summary of Ronny Allan’s Community news, views and ICYMI (in case you missed it!).

NET News

The following news items may be of interest:

 
  • The European Commission (EC) approved Lu-177 Lutathera (PRRT) on 28 Sep.  This is the first time the drug has ever been approved, despite being in use for  over 10 years.  In USA, the FDA gave a date of 28 Jan 2018 for its decision to approve or not.  Read more here.
 
  • The European Commission approved the use of XERMELO (telotristat ethyl) for use in Carcinoid Syndrome diarrhea not adequately controlled by somatostatin analogues. Read more here.
 
  • The US FDA approved an add-on indication for Lanreotide (Somatuline) for treatment of carcinoid syndrome, adding when used, it reduces the frequency of short-acting somatostatin analogue rescue therapy (….. ergo Octreotide).  Read more here.
 
  • GA-68 PET (NETSPOT) continues to roll out across the USA, see CCFs latest list by clicking here.

 

 
  • The WEGO Health Finalists were announced on 25 Sep and I’m through to the finals in all 3 awards which you nominated me for. Many thanks for the support!  I posted this info here.

Blog Site?  

Due to the vagaries of Facebook inner workings, some of these may not have even shown on your timeline.  So, ICYMI …….here’s a summary with links, includes updated blogs. You can actually sign up to receive my blog articles direct to your inbox when published – subscribe here.

 
 
 
  • The Invisible NET Patient Population.  Centred on the issue of a cohort of as yet undiagnosed people with NETs; or have been labelled with another cancer; or have been told their cancer is benign and therefor not recorded.
 
  • The WEGO Health Finalists were announced on 25 Sep and I’m through to the finals in all 3 awards which you nominated me for. Many thanks for the support!  I posted this info here.

 Other Activity

September was a slower month in ‘new’ blogging terms mainly due to personal activities (holiday) and the consequences of being ‘contactable’ by a large internet footprint! Striking a balance remains difficult, I’m keen to support and advocate but as a patient, I also need my own time.  I’m currently seeing a trend of low ‘new’ blog months, mainly due to external projects and a continuous stream of offline messages from patients (more on this later) – my strategy is constantly under review.  However, despite a low month for brand new blogs, I still managed to break through 20,000 views for the 4th month in a row…….. Thank you all so much for the support.

Please join my 2017 awareness campaign event here (select ‘Going’)

I continue to receive a steady flow of private contacts, mainly from patients seeking information.  I don’t have an issue with private contact but please note my disclaimer.  Please also note that I cannot accept telephone calls on a one to one basis.  Also, the number of non-patients contacting me for other reasons (mainly to help with something) continues to grow and this is producing some great publicity and awareness.

Awareness Activity in September 2017

New Audiences for NET Cancer.  From Day 1, I said it was my aim to find new audiences for NETS rather than just share stuff within our own community.

  • Article features.  I was featured in a well shared and positive article entitled A revolution in the treatment of Neuroendocrine Tumors. A very positive look at the new treatments coming through. I didn’t agree with some of the content but ‘hey ho’ I cannot control what others write.  You can check out the article by clicking here.
  • Twitter.
    • I took part in a patient chat on twitter where I was able to contribute to some general cancer questions.  It was attended by many patient advocates representing many different conditions. The taking part in these activities is time-consuming and hard work but it does allow me to grow as a general patient advocate and to occasionally mention “Neuroendocrine Cancer” spreads awareness to new audiences.  A summary of the conversation can be found here.
    • I’m ‘extremely’ active on twitter and I find a lot of my research stuff there. I also use it to support other conditions and it’s mostly returned (i.e. others help with NET awareness and are made aware of NETs in the process).  In Sept, I tweeted 109 times on my personal account which lead to almost 75,000 views.  I was mentioned 78 times by other tweeters and gained 68 new followers.  My tweet “Ignore this post” remains the most tweeted article about NETs ever posted on twitter.  Check it out – click here.

  • Daily Newsletter from my twitter feed (Nuzzel).  There is so much on twitter that I could swamp the community Facebook site so I started a twitter newsletter via an app called Nuzzel which seeks out stuff I normally like. Click this link and sign up if you think this is something you’d be interested in receiving – you don’t need to have a twitter account to read, just sign up with an email.  Currently 336 subscribers – up 12% on last month.

  • WEGO. I continue to be featured by ‘external’ organisations such as WEGO and my PODCAST is reaching new audiences – click here.  The recent awards will continue to showcase my work which has the effect of spreading Neuroendocrine Cancer awareness to NEW audiences in addition to enriching my experience as a Patient Leader.  WEGO is a fantastic organisation!

  • Macmillan Cancer Support.  I’m proud to be a ‘Voice’ and ‘Community Champion’ on the Macmillan Cancer Support Forum.  In addition I help ‘outliers’ from the NET community there. There are only 27 champions for a site supporting hundreds of thousand patients – it’s a community of communities.  I’ll be reporting more on this in the coming weeks.  This is the biggest cancer support organisation in the UK and I’m intent on developing relationships with various departments in this fantastic organisation.  On August 30th, one of my blogs made their “top picks” generating some NET awareness – check out Living with Cancer – 6 tips for conquering fear They have recently agreed to feature NETs on 10 Nov 17.
that’s me in the centre
  • Cure Magazine.  I’ve been accepted as a ‘Cure Today’ contributor which means my articles will get a wider distribution than they do now.  I’ve not contributed yet but clearly they will be posted on all my social media outlets for you to read.  Cure Magazine has a readership of 1 million.  Click here to read more.

Speaking Engagements

  • On 5th October, I’ve been invited to speak for around an hour at the Cardiff (South Wales) NET Patient meeting (moved from July due to forecast low attendance)  Things are starting to happen in this area and I already know their NET Specialist Dr Mo Khan who is working hard on behalf of patients.  I’m really looking forward to visiting and talking to this group.

Writing and other types of Engagement (external) – watch this space as I’m working on quite a few projects concurrently.  I’m currently in a pool of patients who may be featured in a UK national, fingers crossed.

Social Media and Stats

Blog Milestone.  In September, I’m very close to 380,000 views! Thank you all so much Keep sharing! On track for 400,000 by end of the October.

Facebook Milestone.  I would love to achieve 6000 followers by the end of 2017 but this will be a challenge.  The Facebook page is now my biggest outlet for awareness and education so please please please recommend this page to anyone you think would be interested.

Also check out my sister Facebook sites here (click on ‘Like’)

These are fallback  sites to counter the Facebook algorithm whereby you may not see all my posts on the main site:

Ronny Allan’s Community

Neuroendocrine Cancer Awareness and Networking

Instagram

I’m expanding into Instagram to see how that goes. I’ve amassed over 200 followers to date. Initially, I’ll just be posting pictures of things that inspire me, mostly scenic photos of places I’ve been or want to go!  You can follow me here:  Click here to go to my Instagram page

Community Statistics (the measurement of my efforts on your behalf)

Figures

  • Facebook 5220.  This is a key outlet for my blog – please encourage others to like my page (if you’d like to know how to use your Facebook to invite others to my page – let me know, I can provide you with a step by step approach).
  • Twitter4153 / 3195 Follow me here @RonnyAllan1 / @NETCancerBlog
  • Total Blog Views: 379,320
  • Blog with most views: 12761 – The Human Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer 
  • Most blog views in one day:  2043 on 15 January 2017.  Why the spike? ….. The Human Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer” 
  • Most blog views in one week: 7538 in July 2017.
  • Most blog views in one month: 24142 in July 2017.  Why the spike? … these blogs here:
Home page / Archives More stats 2,482
Neuroendocrine Cancer Syndromes – Early Signs of a Late Diagnosis More stats 1,418
Steve Jobs – the most famous Neuroendocrine Cancer Ambassador we NEVER had More stats 1,326
Diagnosed with Neuroendocrine Cancer? 10 questions to ask your doctor More stats 1,253
Neuroendocrine Cancer – Incurable vs. Terminal More stats 1,212
Neuroendocrine Neoplasms – Grade and Stage (incorporating WHO 2017 changes) More stats 985
I’m still here More stats 869
Neuroendocrine Cancer Nutrition Blog 2 – Gastrointestinal Malabsorption More stats 846
Living with Neuroendocrine Cancer – Home Page More stats 824
Ignore this post about Neuroendocrine Cancer More stats 763
The Human Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer More stats 759

WOW!  – that’s an amazing amount of awareness and hopefully, support for others.  However, I cannot do this without you guys liking, commenting and sharing!  The likes give me motivation, the comments (and private messages) give me inspiration (or at least a chance to explain further) and they also keep me humble.  The sharing gives me a bigger platform.  A bigger platform generates more awareness.

 

Thanks for your great support in September.  Onwards and upwards!

Thanks for reading

Ronny

Hey, I’m also active on Facebook.  Like my page for even more news.

Disclaimer

My Diagnosis and Treatment History

Most Popular Posts

Sign up for my twitter newsletter

Check out my Podcast (click and press play)

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

community_titled_transparent_2013-10-22

NETwork with Ronny © – Community Newsletter AUGUST 2017

background scene from my Instagram account – to see more check out the newsletter. Photo credit to Nick Lucas

Hi NETworkers!

Welcome to my monthly ‘Community’ newsletter. This is August 2017’s monthly summary of Ronny Allan’s Community news, views and ICYMI (in case you missed it!).

NET News

The following news items may be of interest:

  • PRRT takes a step forward to being formally approved in USA. FDA acknowledges receipt of revised application for approval.  Click here.
  • However, in UK, there is a threat that PRRT won’t be approved despite a positive recommendation by the scientific committee of the European Medicines Agency (EMA).  Advanced Accelerator Applications (AAA), the manufacturers of Lu-177 Lutathera for use on PRRT, has had to respond to the UK’s drug approver NICE’s negative recommendation.  Read more here.
  • GA-68 PET (NETSPOT) is still rolling out across the USA, see CCFs latest list by clicking here.
  • Ipsen launches the Brazilian version of ‘Living with NETs’ website.  Click here.  (See the English language version – click here).

What’s happening on my Blog Site?  

A quiet month.  Due to the vagaries of Facebook inner workings, some of these may not have even shown on your timeline.  So, ICYMI …….here’s a summary with links, includes updated blogs.

  • The Invisible NET Patient Population.  My latest published blog and received some great viewing figures (and this continues).  Controversial for some but backed up by facts.
  • NETs – not as rare as you think. An older post with some tweaks.  Again, controversial for some but backed up by facts.
  • Carcinoid vs Neuroendocrine – One of my most controversial posts – this is an older post which previously had an element of sitting on the fence. I jumped off the fence following some further research and period of reflection.  I was happy with some of the positive comments I subsequently received on this post.
  • Steve Jobs.  An updated version with some new research timelines added.  This post continues to receive hits daily even when I’m not sharing.  Most of the hits are from people searching and find my article online, an indication of the interest Steve Jobs still has today.  And many of the hits are NEW audiences.
  • NETwork with Ronny © – Community Newsletter JULY 2017.  My July 2017 newsletter ICYMI.
  • Your favourite posts.  All posts with viewing figures above 2000.

Misc Blog Stuff

  • There’s a lot of chatter about use of the word ‘fight’ in cancer parlance but many people are misrepresenting the word’s multiple meanings as per the most eminent English language dictionaries.  As for me, I’m ‘sticking to my guns’ on the subject.
  • I got some great comments on my monthly Lanreotide ‘butt dart’ post.  Feel free to add questions.  I may know some of the answers and cannot promise answers from Ipsen due to their regulatory arrangements but I will try!  Check out the discussion here …… ‘click here’.
  • My notification about the Ipsen HomeZone (or equivalent services within your own country) got an interesting response.  Since then many others have taken advantage by contacting Ipsen or their specialist asking about the service.  This has also led to feedback about the similar schemes from Novartis for Octreotide.  I’m happy that my post has provided publicity to services which help patients.  Read my post At Home with Lanreotide by clicking here.

Other Activity

August was a slower month in ‘new’ blogging terms mainly due to personal activities and the consequences of having a large internet footprint! Striking a balance is becoming more difficult.  I’m seeing a trend of low ‘new’ blog months, mainly due to external projects and a continuous stream of offline messages from patients (more on this later).  Also, I’ve been suffering with minor right hip pain but now seeing improvements working with a physiotherapist.  However, despite a low month for brand new blogs, I still managed to make the second highest monthly views ever……..Thank you all so much for the support.

Please join my 2017 awareness campaign event here (select ‘Going’)

I continue to receive a steady flow of private contacts, mainly from patients seeking information.  I don’t have an issue with private contact but please note my disclaimer.  Please also note that I cannot accept telephone calls on a one to one basis.  However …..the number of non-patients contacting me for other reasons (mainly to help with something) continues to grow and this is producing some great publicity and awareness.

By the time you read this update, the nominations and endorsements for the 2017 WEGO Health Awards will be closed.  If you remember last year, I made it to the final in two categories of Blog and Community, and then won the latter.  I should find out if I made the finals by the middle of September. Fingers crossed!  Many thanks to those who took the time and trouble to vote for me.

 

Awareness Activity in August 2017

New Audiences for NET Cancer.  From Day 1, I said it was my aim to find new audiences for NETS rather than just share stuff within our own community.

  • Article features.  I was featured in a well shared and positive article entitled A revolution in the treatment of Neuroendocrine Tumors. A very positive look at the new treatments coming through. I didn’t agree with some of the content but ‘hey ho’ I cannot control what others write.  You can check out the article by clicking here.
  • Twitter. I’m ‘extremely’ active on twitter and I find a lot of my research stuff there. I also use it to support other conditions and it’s mostly returned (i.e. others help with NET awareness and are made aware of NETs in the process).  In Aug, I tweeted 130 times on my personal account which lead to almost 90,000 views.  I was mentioned 94 times by other tweeters and gained 64 new followers.  My tweet “Ignore this post” remains the most tweeted article about NETs ever posted on twitter.  Check it out – click here.
  • Daily Newsletter from my twitter feed (Nuzzel).  There is so much on twitter that I could swamp the community Facebook site so I started a twitter newsletter via an app called Nuzzel which seeks out stuff I normally like. Click this link and sign up if you think this is something you’d be interested in receiving – you don’t need to have a twitter account to read, just sign up with an email.  Currently 294 subscribers – up 10% on last month.  Will you be number 300?
  • WEGO. I continue to be featured by ‘external’ organisations such as WEGO and my PODCAST is reaching new audiences – click here.  The recent awards will continue to showcase my work which has the effect of spreading Neuroendocrine Cancer awareness to NEW audiences.
  • Macmillan Cancer Support.  I’m proud to be a ‘Community Champion’ on the Macmillan Cancer Support Forum helping ‘outliers’ from the NET community there. There are only 27 champions for a site supporting hundreds of thousand patients.  I’ll be reporting more on this in the coming weeks.  This is the biggest cancer support organisation in the UK and I’m intent on developing relationships with various departments in this fantastic organisation.  On August 30th, one of my blogs made their “top picks” generating some NET awareness – check out Living with Cancer – 6 tips for conquering fear
  • Cure Magazine.  I’ve been accepted as a ‘Cure Today’ contributor which means my articles will get a wider distribution than they do now.  I’ve not contributed yet but clearly they will be posted on all my social media outlets for you to read.  Cure Magazine has a readership of 1 million.  Click here to read more.

Speaking Engagements

  • On 5th October, I’ve been invited to speak for around an hour at the Cardiff (South Wales) NET Patient meeting (moved from July due to forecast low attendance)  Things are starting to happen in this area and I already know Dr Mo Khan who is a NET specialist working hard on behalf of patients.  I’m really looking forward to visiting and talking to this group.

Writing and other types of Engagement (external) – watch this space as I’m working on quite a few projects concurrently

Remember …….

Social Media and Stats

Blog Milestone.  In August, I tipped a 360,000 views! Thank you all so much Keep sharing! On track for 400000 by end of the October.

Facebook Milestone.  I would love to achieve 6000 followers by the end of 2017 but this will be a challenge.  The Facebook page is now my biggest outlet for awareness and education so please please please recommend this page to anyone you think would be interested.

Also check out my sister Facebook sites here (click on ‘Like’).

Ronny Allan’s Community

Neuroendocrine Cancer Awareness and Networking

Instagram

I’m expanding into Instagram to see how that goes. I’ve amassed over 200 followers to date. Initially, I’ll just be posting pictures of things that inspire me, mostly scenic photos of places I’ve been or want to go!  You can follow me here:  Click here to go to my Instagram page

Community Statistics (the measurement of my efforts on your behalf)

Figures

  • Facebook 5143.  This is a key outlet for my blog – please encourage others to like my page (if you’d like to know how to use your Facebook to invite others to my page – let me know, I can provide you with a step by step approach).
  • Twitter4091 / 3160 Follow me here @RonnyAllan1 / @NETCancerBlog
  • Total Blog Views: 360875
  • Blog with most views: 12568The Human Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer 
  • Most blog views in one day:  2043 on 15 January 2017.  Why the spike? ….. The Human Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer” 
  • Most blog views in one week: 7538 in July 2017.
  • Most blog views in one month: 24142 in July 2017.  Why the spike? … these blogs here:
Home page / Archives More stats 2,482
Neuroendocrine Cancer Syndromes – Early Signs of a Late Diagnosis More stats 1,418
Steve Jobs – the most famous Neuroendocrine Cancer Ambassador we NEVER had More stats 1,326
Diagnosed with Neuroendocrine Cancer? 10 questions to ask your doctor More stats 1,253
Neuroendocrine Cancer – Incurable vs. Terminal More stats 1,212
Neuroendocrine Neoplasms – Grade and Stage (incorporating WHO 2017 changes) More stats 985
I’m still here More stats 869
Neuroendocrine Cancer Nutrition Blog 2 – Gastrointestinal Malabsorption More stats 846
Living with Neuroendocrine Cancer – Home Page More stats 824
Ignore this post about Neuroendocrine Cancer More stats 763
The Human Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer More stats 759

WOW!  – that’s an amazing amount of awareness and hopefully, support for others.  However, I cannot do this without you guys liking, commenting and sharing!  The likes give me motivation, the comments (and private messages) give me inspiration (or at least a chance to explain further) and they also keep me humble.  The sharing gives me a bigger platform.  A bigger platform generates more awareness.

Thanks for your great support in August.  Onwards and upwards!

Thanks for reading

Ronny

Hey, I’m also active on Facebook.  Like my page for even more news.

Disclaimer

My Diagnosis and Treatment History

Most Popular Posts

Sign up for my twitter newsletter

Check out my Podcast (click and press play)

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

community_titled_transparent_2013-10-22

The Invisible NET Patient Population 

OPINION

I found some of the quotes from the recent NET SEER Database study (Dasari et al) very interesting.  The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program is a comprehensive source of population-based information initiated in 1973 that is updated annually. Although the study is US-based, it represents the largest study of Neuroendocrine Tumors (NETs) ever recorded and is therefore a good guide to what might be found beyond USA. In fact, other national declarations of incidence and prevalence of NETs seem to bear these statistics out, i.e incidence rates of 7-8/100,000 …… almost 7 times the rate recorded in the 1970s. If you want to understand the factors behind this massive increase, I covered this extensively in my post “Neuroendocrine Tumors – not as rare as you think“.  In this article, I looked at USA and beyond. Those who are regular readers of my articles will already know I’ve been ‘banging on’ about this for a few years. Other organisations and individuals (including NET specialists) are now indicating these tumors are not rare, some vindication for my aforementioned ‘banging on’.  This is now a serious disease with some serious statistics behind it and we need a new way of doing things.

 There are two further quotes which I’d like to focus on in this article:

1. From the NET SEER Database study published 2017:

…… many cases of NETs may not have been reported to cancer registries unless considered malignant…… it is likely that we have underestimated their true incidence and prevalence” – i.e. the slide here:

SEER 2012 Underestimated

2. From Dana Farber (Kulke, Chan):

“Estimated more than 200,000 undiagnosed cases in the US” – this slide here:

dana-farber-200000

…. But what do these quotes actually mean?  Here’s my take:

Underestimating the true incidence and prevalence of NETs

I studied the latest SEER NET study, formally titled “Trends in the Incidence, Prevalence, and Survival Outcomes in Patients With Neuroendocrine Tumors in the United States” (authored by Arvind Dasari, MD, MS; Chan Shen, PhD; Daniel Halperin, MD; et al). From this document, I can see the authors were aware of the well-known faults in cancer registries worldwide and the effect this has on the true incidence and prevalence of Neuroendocrine Cancer.  These issues, which are a worldwide problem, include the incorrect registration of Neuroendocrine Cancer as other types based on the anatomical location of the primary tumor.  At this point, you may wish to check out my post “The Human Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer” which provides some real life examples of the confusion between primary Neuroendocrine location and other cancers. That said, things are definitely improving because the latest SEER data shows a marked increase in the incidence of High Grade Neuroendocrine Carcinomas (NEC), an area where this issue is prevalent. A similar increase in NEC was also illustrated in the UK’s figures from Public Health England (PHE) in 2016 (click here) indicating that cancer registries are getting better and not before time, although it has to be said this only came about due to a major intervention by NET Patient Foundation and others. Through this work, it’s becoming clear that the incidence of all NETs in UK is around 8 to 9 per 100.000 (rare threshold <=5).

But there’s another issue impacting whether a diagnosis is actually entered on a cancer registry or not.  Unfortunately, there are members of the medical community who still see well differentiated NETs as benign tumors, ‘not a proper cancer’ and still use ancient terminology ………  ‘Carcinoid’.  The WHO 2010 classification for NETs was based on the concept that all NETs have malignant potential. Here’s a quote from the UKINETS Guidelines in 2011 (Ramage, Caplin, Meyer, Grossman, et al).

Tumours should be classified according to the WHO 2010 classification (Bosman FT, Carneiro F, Hruban RH, et al. WHO Classification of Tumours of the Digestive System. Lyon: IARC, 2010). This classification is fundamentally different from the WHO 2000 classification scheme, as it no longer combines stage related information with the two-tiered system of well and poorly differentiated NETs. The WHO 2010 classification is based on the concept that all NETs have malignant potential, and has therefore abandoned the division into benign and malignant NETs and tumours of uncertain malignant potential.

The guidance in WHO 2017 for Endocrine Organs reinforces this statement.

The undiagnosed NET patient population

From above, you can see why the incidence (and therefore the prevalence) of our disease has almost definitely been underestimated.  However, that’s not the end of my story……..

A number of statements are clear about Neuroendocrine Tumors:

  • Low/Intermediate grade well differentiated tumors are known to have been growing slowly over a number of years before discovery or accurate diagnosis occurs,
  • They can be difficult to diagnose,
  • They are not that well-known amongst the general medical population,
  • Many people are initially misdiagnosed with another condition, with some this will result in late presentation with metastatic disease.
  • Many NETs are found during autopsies.

The living undiagnosed. It’s worth pointing out that one of the conclusions made by the recent SEER NET study is that the increase in incidence and prevalence can be attributed to a number of factors including earlier diagnosis.  This is of course excellent news.  Also worth noting that another conclusion of the study is that we are all living longer, reflecting improvements in therapies.  This is also great news and is a factor in increased prevalence figures. However, it seems obvious that there are hundreds of thousands of people out there still be diagnosed who have tumors silently growing inside them and who are in a loop of referrals between primary and secondary care awaiting a proper diagnosis. See the Dana Farber slide above.

The dead undiagnosed? The true incidence of NETs may be much higher owing to the lack of diagnosis until after death.  For example:

  • In USA, a respected NET specialist stated that the autopsy find for (excuse the outdated terminology…….) ‘carcinoid‘ is 4 times the recorded diagnosis rate (based on the known incidence rate at the time, this is 8 per 100,000).
  • In Australia, one study claimed that 0.05% of all autopsies found a Pheochromocytoma or Paraganglioma.
  • Here is an article claiming that former US President Dwight D Eisenhower had a biopsy confirming he had a Pheochromocytoma.  Click here.
  • A Hong Kong study indicated that 1% of all autopsies discovered an ‘Islet Cell’ tumour (i.e. a Pancreatic NET or pNET).
  • In one series, (excuse the outdated terminology…….) ‘carcinoid’ tumors were found in 1.22% of 16,294 autopsies in Malmö, Sweden, 90% of which were incidental findings.

It’s possible that many of these people showed no NET symptoms during their life but …… it’s equally possible that many of these people had NET symptoms but just put up with it and/or had been diagnosed with something else, and then died without a correct diagnosis.  There is no evidence that any investigation follow ups were done so this possibility remains.

The potential for even more undiagnosed. To add to the underdiagnoses of NETs issue, is this most amazing piece of research published in 2018 – Pan-cancer molecular classes transcending tumor lineage across 32 cancer types, multiple data platforms, and over 10,000 cases.  It was published in the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) journal ‘Clinical Cancer Research and authored by Chad Creighton et al. D.  This was a pan-cancer piece of research which indicated that Neuroendocrine disease may be more prevalent than anyone has ever thought.  There’s a summary article here which I suggest you read fully.  The rather explosive extract is as follows:

We expected that about 1 percent of

Are you undiagnosed but suspect NETs?

Check out my advice by clicking here.

Summary

I suspect there’s an invisible patient population for many conditions but the slow-growing and relatively quiet nature of Neuroendocrine Cancer means there could be a significant undiagnosed burden walking around, looking for a diagnosis, putting up with symptoms and being treated for other conditions. I see people on forums looking for clues, social media can sometimes be helpful here. That said, I do get the feeling some do not have NETs, regardless of the symptoms they associate with the disease, but I guess many of them will go on to be formally diagnosed with something. I’m contacted by many ‘undiagnosed’ people on my own blog and supporting Facebook sites (mostly privately) and I can tell you that’s a tough gig.  I only hope I’ve given them some useful ideas about where to look or what to ask/suggest.

I feel earlier diagnosis reported in the SEER study is partly due to increased awareness, particularly in the medical world. I would also suggest that it has improved in the general population due to the explosion of social media information dissemination. It’s also accurate to say that improvements in diagnostic capabilities is also playing its part in pushing up incidence rates, just as improved therapies have pushed up prevalence rates, something emphasised by Dasari (et al) in the most recent study.  Things are improving but there is so much more to do.

The issues caused by inefficient registries together with ‘the undiagnosed’, combine to suggest there is a large invisible NET patient population out there ……. we just need to find them!  

Thanks to NET Patient Foundation for featuring this article here.

NET Patient Foundation logo

Thanks for reading

Ronny

I’m also active on Facebook.  Like my page for even more news.  Please also help me build up my new campaigning 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!

WEGO Awards

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NETwork with Ronny © – Community Newsletter JULY 2017

 

Hi NETworkers!

Welcome to my monthly ‘Community’ newsletter. This is July 2017’s monthly summary of Ronny Allan’s Community news, views and ICYMI (in case you missed it!).  July 26th was the ‘Cancerversary‘ of my diagnosis – I’m still here after 7 years and I’m apparently a veritable newbie!  There’s some great comments on my ‘I’m Still Here’ post – check them out … ‘click here’

NET News

The following news items may be of interest:

  • Telotristat Ethyl (Xermelo) takes a step forward to being approved in Europe. Click here.
  • PRRT takes a step forward to being approved in USA.  Click here.
  • Ipsen launches the German version of ‘Living with NETs’ website.  Click here.

What’s happening on my Blog Site?  

As per above, a quiet month.  Due to the vagaries of Facebook inner workings, some of these may not have even shown on your timeline.  So, ICYMI …….here’s a summary with links, includes updated blogs.

There’s a lot of chatter about use of the word ‘fight’ in cancer parlance but most people are misrepresenting the word’s multiple meanings as per the most eminent English language dictionaries.  As for me, I’m ‘sticking to my guns’ on the subject.

I got some great comments on my monthly Lanreotide ‘butt dart’ post.  Feel free to add questions.  I may know some of the answers and cannot promise answers from Ipsen due to their regulatory arrangements but I will try!  Check out the discussion here …… ‘click here’

NET Cancer Blog Activity

July was a slower month in ‘new’ blogging terms mainly due to holiday.  I’m seeing a trend of low ‘new’ blog months, mainly due to external projects and a continuous stream of offline messages from patients.  Also, I’m still suffering with minor pain which has decided to move to my right hip (hopefully localising where the real problem is).  Physiotherapist appointment is next week.  However, despite a low month for brand new blogs, I managed to totally smash my monthly blog view record (after smashing it last month too!)  ……..Thank you all so much for the support.

I continue to receive a steady flow of private contacts, mainly from patients seeking information.  I don’t have an issue with private contact but please note my disclaimer.  Please also note that I cannot accept telephone calls on a one to one basis.  The number of non-patients contacting me for other reasons (mainly to help with something) continues to grow and this is producing some great publicity and awareness.

I’ve been nominated for the 2017 WEGO Health Awards in three categories so far, Blog, Patient Leader Hero and Lifetime Achievement.  If you remember last year, I made it to the final in two categories of Blog and Community and won the latter.  A vote for me is a vote for Neuroendocrine Cancer awareness. VOTE HERE PLEASE

Click on ‘Endorse Ronny Allan’.  It defaults to ‘Blog’ but the other two are there via the drop down menu.  Thanks, I cannot get to the finals without the votes.

Awareness Activity in July 2017

New Audiences for NET Cancer.  From Day 1, I said it was my aim to find new audiences for NETS rather than just share stuff within our own community.

  • I’m ‘extremely’ active on twitter and I find a lot of my research stuff there. I also use it to support other conditions and it’s mostly returned (i.e. others help with NET awareness and are made aware of NETs in the process). There is so much on twitter that I could swamp the community Facebook site so I started a twitter newsletter via an app called Nuzzel which seeks out stuff I normally like. Click this link and sign up if you think this is something you’d be interested in receiving.  Currently 269 subscribers – up 12% on last month.
  • I continue to be featured by ‘external’ organisations such as WEGO and my PODCAST is reaching new audiences – click here.  Other irons are in the fire but unable to bring you firm news just yet.
  • I’m proud to be a ‘Community Champion’ on the Macmillan Cancer Support Forum helping outliers from the NET community there. I’ll be reporting more on this in the coming weeks.  This is the biggest cancer support organisation in the UK.
  • I’ve been accepted as a ‘Cure Today’ contributor which means my articles will get a wider distribution than they do now.  I’ve not contributed yet but clearly they will be posted on all my social media outlets for you to read.  Click here to read more.

Speaking Engagements

  • On 12 July, I delivered a ‘patient view’ presentation to Ipsen (UK) which was well received.
  • On 5th October, I’ve been invited to speak for around an hour at the Cardiff (South Wales) NET Patient meeting (moved from July due to forecast low attendance)  Things are starting to happen in this area and I already know Dr Mo Khan who is a NET specialist working hard on behalf of patients.  I’m really looking forward to visiting and talking to this group.
Me with some very nice Ipsen people! 12 July 2017 in London

Writing and other types of Engagement (external) – watch this space as I’m working on quite a few projects concurrently

Remember …….

Social Media and Stats

Blog Milestone.  In July, I tipped a THIRD OF A MILLION views! Thank you all so much Keep sharing! On track for 400000 by end of the year.

Facebook Milestone.  I met my target of 5000 followers a few months before my self inposed deadline date.  I’m very grateful!  The Facebook page is now my biggest outlet for awareness and education so please please please recommend this page to anyone you think would be interested.

Instagram

I’m expanding into Instagram to see how that goes. I’ve amassed over 200 followers to date. Initially, I’ll just be posting pictures of things that inspire me, mostly scenic photos of places I’ve been or want to go!  You can follow me here:  Click here to go to my Instagram page

Medicine

Figures

  • Facebook 5007.  This is a key outlet for my blog – please encourage others to like my page (if you’d like to know how to use your Facebook to invite others to my page – let me know, I can provide you with a step by step approach). Please also join my 2017 awareness campaign event here (select ‘Going’)
  • Twitter4000 / 3095 Follow me here @RonnyAllan1 / @NETCancerBlog
  • Total Blog Views: 337313
  • Blog with most views: 12323The Human Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer 
  • Most blog views in one day:  2043 on 15 January 2017.  Why the spike? ….. The Human Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer” 
  • Most blog views in one week: 7538 in July 2017.
  • Most blog views in one month: 20498 in July 2017.  Why the spike? … these blogs here:
Home page / Archives More stats 2,482
Neuroendocrine Cancer Syndromes – Early Signs of a Late Diagnosis More stats 1,418
Steve Jobs – the most famous Neuroendocrine Cancer Ambassador we NEVER had More stats 1,326
Diagnosed with Neuroendocrine Cancer? 10 questions to ask your doctor More stats 1,253
Neuroendocrine Cancer – Incurable vs. Terminal More stats 1,212
Neuroendocrine Neoplasms – Grade and Stage (incorporating WHO 2017 changes) More stats 985
I’m still here More stats 869
Neuroendocrine Cancer Nutrition Blog 2 – Gastrointestinal Malabsorption More stats 846
Living with Neuroendocrine Cancer – Home Page More stats 824
Ignore this post about Neuroendocrine Cancer More stats 763
The Human Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer More stats 759

 

WOW!  – that’s an amazing amount of awareness and hopefully, support for others.  However, I cannot do this without you guys liking, commenting and sharing!  The likes give me motivation, the comments (and private messages) give me inspiration (or at least a chance to explain further) and the sharing gives me a bigger platform.  A bigger platform generates more awareness.

Thanks for your great support in July.  Onwards and upwards!

Thanks for reading

Ronny

Hey, I’m also active on Facebook.  Like my page for even more news.

Disclaimer

My Diagnosis and Treatment History

Most Popular Posts

Sign up for my twitter newsletter

Check out my Podcast (click and press play)

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

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ASCO 2017 – Let’s talk about NETs #ASCO17

ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology) is one of the biggest cancer conferences in the world normally bringing together more than 30,000 oncology professionals from around the world to discuss state-of-the-art treatment modalities, new therapies, and ongoing controversies in the field.  As Neuroendorine Tumors is on a roll in terms of new treatments and continued research, we appear to be well represented with over 20 ‘extracts’ submitted for review and display.  This is fairly complex stuff but much of it will be familiar to many.  I’ve filtered and extracted all the Neuroendocrine stuff into one list providing you with an easy to peruse table of contents, complete with relevant linkages if you need to read more.  For many the extract title and conclusion will be sufficiently educational or at least prompt you to click the link to investigate further.  Remember, these are extracts so do not contain all the details of the research or study. However, some are linked to bigger trials and linkages are shown where relevant.  I’ve also linked to some of my blog posts to add context and detail.

I’m hoping to capture any presentations or other output from the meeting which appears to be relevant and this will follow after the meeting.  I will also be actively tweeting any output from the live event (for many cancers, not just NETs).

There’s something for everyone here – I hope it’s useful.

68Ga-DOTATATE PET/CT to predict response to peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT) in neuroendocrine tumours (NETs).  

Conclusions: Objective response to PRRT defines a subset of patients with markedly improved PFS. SUVave 21.6 defines a threshold below which patients have a poor response to PRRT. This threshold should be taken forward into prospective study.

Check out my recent blog discussing ‘Theranostic pairing” – click here

Rohini Sharma 4093
A multicohort phase II study of durvalumab plus tremelimumab for the treatment of patients (PTS) with advanced neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) of gastroenteropancreatic (GEP) or lung origin (the DUNE trial-GETNE1601-).

News of a trial – no conclusion included.  However, see trial data NCT03095274

Ignacio Matos Garcia TPS4146
Association between duration of somatostatin analogs (SSAs) use and quality of life in patients with carcinoid syndrome in the United States based on the FACT-G instrument.

Conclusions: The duration of SSA use was positively associated with QoL benefit among CS patients. This may be explained by long-term effectiveness of SSAs or selection bias favoring patients with more indolent disease. Future studies will be needed to distinguish between these possibilities.

Daniel M. Halperin e15693
Association of weight change with telotristat ethyl in the treatment of carcinoid syndrome.

Conclusions: The incidence of weight gain was dose-related on TE and was greater than that on pbo. It was possibly related to a reduction in diarrhea severity, and it may be a relevant aspect of TE efficacy among patients with functioning metastatic NETs. Clinical trial information: NCT01677910

See my blog post Telotristat Ethyl

Martin O Weickert e15692
Blood measurements of neuroendocrine tumor (NET) transcripts and gene cluster analysis to predict efficacy of peptide radioreceptor therapy.

Conclusions: A pre-PRRT analysis of circulating NET genes, the predictive quotient index comprising “omic” analysis and grading, is validated to predict the efficacy of PRRT therapy in GEP and lung NETs.

Lisa Bodei 4091
Capecitabine and temozolomide (CAPTEM) in neuroendocrine tumor of unknown primary.

Conclusions: CAPTEM shows activity in neuroendocrine tumor of unknown primary. Currently FDA approved treatment options for grade I and grade II GI NETs includes somatostatin analogs and everolimus. Both of which are cytostatic and of limited use in case of visceral crisis or bulky disease where disease shrinkage is required. CAPTEM should be considered for grade II NETS of unknown primary.

Aman Chauhan e15691
Clinical and epidemiological features in 495 gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine patients in Mexico.

Conclusions: This is the first multi-center study in Mexico. Which reflects the clinical characteristics of the NET_GET. The results differ in their epidemiology from that reported in other countries. However, the clinical and therapeutic results are very similar.

Rafael Medrano Guzman e15687
Effect of lanreotide depot (LAN) on 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5HIAA) and chromogranin A (CgA) in gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine (GEP NET) tumors: Correlation with tumor response and progression-free survival (PFS) from the phase III CLARINET study.

Conclusions: These data suggest that serotonin is secreted by nonfunctioning tumors, but does not reach the threshold required for clinical carcinoid symptoms. Monitoring 5HIAA and CgA may be useful during LAN treatment of nonfunctional GEP NETs. Clinical trial information: NCT00353496

Alexandria T. Phan 4095
Final progression-free survival (PFS) analyses for lanreotide autogel/depot 120 mg in metastatic enteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETs): The CLARINET extension study.

Conclusions: CLARINET OLE suggests sustained antitumor effects with LAN 120 mg in enteropancreatic NETs irrespective of tumor origin, and suggests benefits with LAN as early treatment. Clinical trial information: NCT00842348

Edward M. Wolin 4089
Lanreotide depot (LAN) for symptomatic control of carcinoid syndrome (CS) in neuroendocrine tumor (NET) patients previously responsive to octreotide (OCT): Subanalysis of patient-reported symptoms from the phase III elect study.

Conclusions: Pts showed improvement in CS symptoms of flushing and diarrhea and reduction in 5HIAA levels with LAN treatment, indicating efficacy of LAN regardless of prior OCT use. Transition from OCT to LAN was well tolerated among prior OCT pts in ELECT. Clinical trial information: NCT00774930

Check out my blog post about Lanreotide and Lanreotide vs Octreotide

George A. Fisher 4088
Molecular classification of neuroendocrine tumors: Clinical experience with the 92-gene assay in >24,000 cases.

Conclusions: These findings highlight the utility of molecular classification to identify distinct NET tumor types/subtypes to improve diagnostic precision and treatment decision-making. In addition, significant differences in the distribution of molecular diagnoses of NET subtype by age and gender were identified.

Andrew Eugene Hendifar e15700
Multi-omic molecular profiling of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.

Conclusions: In PNETS, multi-omic profiling through the KYT program identified targetable alterations in several key pathways. Outcome data will be explored.

Rishi Patel e15685
Outcomes of peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT) in metastatic grade 3 neuroendocrine tumors (NETs).

Conclusions: In this poor prognosis G3 NET cohort of whom 77% had received prior chemotherapy, a median OS of 18 months from start of PRRT is encouraging and warrants further study. PRRT is a promising treatment option for patients with G3 NET with high somatostatin-receptor expression selected by SSRI.

Mei Sim Lung e15694
Periprocedural management of patients undergoing liver resection or liver-directed therapy for neuroendocrine tumor metastases.

Conclusions: Occurrence of documented carcinoid crisis was low in this high-risk population. However, a significant proportion of patients developed hemodynamic instability, suggesting that carcinoid crisis is a spectrum diagnosis and may be clinically under-recognized. Use of octreotide was not associated with risk of carcinoid crisis or hemodynamic instability; however, this analysis was limited by our modest sample size at a single institution. There remains a need to establish an objective definition of carcinoid crisis and to inform standardization of periprocedural use of octreotide for at-risk patients.

See my blog on “Carcinoid Crisis” 

Daniel Kwon e15689
Predictive factors of carcinoid syndrome among patients with gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumors (GI NETs).

Conclusions: By assessing patients with GI NET from two independent US claim databases, this study suggested that patients diagnosed with CS were 2-3 times more likely to be diagnosed with liver disorder, enlargement of lymph nodes, or abdominal mass, than those without CS during the one year prior to CS diagnosis. Future studies using patient medical charts are warranted to validate and interpret the findings. These findings, when validated, may aid physicians to diagnose CS patients earlier.

Beilei Cai e15690
Predictors of outcome in patients treated with peptide radio-labelled receptor target therapy (PRRT).

Conclusions: Radiological progression within 12 months of completion of PRRT is associated with a worse outcome in terms of OS. Patients with greater liver involvement and highest CgA levels are more likely to progress within 12 months of treatment completion. Earlier treatment with PRRT in patients with radiological progression not meeting RECIST criteria may need to be considered. There may be a greater survival benefit if PRRT is given prior to the development of large volume disease.

Dalvinder Mandair 4090
Pre-existing symptoms, resource utilization, and healthcare costs prior to diagnosis of neuroendocrine tumors: A SEER-Medicare database study.

Conclusions: To the best of our knowledge, this is the first population-based study to examine potentially relevant pre-existing symptoms, resource utilization and healthcare costs before NET diagnosis. NET patients were more likely to have certain conditions and incurred higher resource utilizations and costs in the year preceding diagnosis of NET.

Chan Shen 4092
Prevalence of co-morbidities in elderly patients with distant stage neuroendocrine tumors.

Conclusions: This population-based study showed that elderly NET pts have significantly different prevalence of co-morbidities compared to non-cancer controls. The impact of these conditions on survival and therapeutic decisions is being evaluated.

A. Dasari e15699
Prognostic factors influencing survival in small bowel neuroendocrine tumors with liver metastasis.

Conclusions: In patients with SBNET with liver metastasis, higher tumor grade and post-operative chemotherapy increased risk of death. However, resection of the primary tumor along with liver metastasis improves the 5-year OS with complete cytoreduction providing the most benefit.

Nicholas Manguso e15688
Role of 92 gene cancer classifier assay in neuroendocrine tumor of unknown primary.

Role of 92 gene cancer classifier assay in neuroendocrine tumor of unknown primary. | 2017 ASCO Annual Meeting Abstracts

Conclusions: Tissue type ID was able to identify a primary site in NETs of unknown primary in majority (94.7%) of cases. The result had direct implication in management of patients with regards to FDA approved treatment options in 13/38 patients (pNETs, merkel cell and pheochromocytoma).

Aman Chauhan e15696
Surgery in combination with peptide receptor radionuclide therapy is effective in metastatic neuroendocrine tumors and is definable by blood gene transcript analysis.

Conclusions: Radical loco-regional surgery for primary tumours combined with PRRT provides a novel, highly efficacious approach in metastasised NET. The NETest accurately measures the effectiveness of treatment.

Andreja Frilling e15697
The impact of pathologic differentiation (well/ poorly) and the degree of Ki-67 index in patients with metastatic WHO grade 3 GEP-NECs.

Conclusions: Grade 3 GEP-NECs could be morphologically classified into well and poorly differentiated NETs. Additionally, among grade 3 GEP-NECs, there was a significant difference in ranges of Ki67 index between well and poorly differentiated NECs. Higher levels ( > 60%) of Ki67 index might be a predictive marker for efficacy of EP as a standard regimen in grade 3 GEP-NECs.

Check out my blog post on Grading which has incorporated latest thinking in revised grade 3 classification

Seung Tae Kim e15686
Theranostic trial of well differentiated neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) with somatostatin antagonists 68Ga-OPS202 and 177Lu-OPS201.

Conclusions: In this trial of heavily treated NETs, preliminary data are promising for the use of 68Ga-OPS202/177Lu-OPS201 as a theranostic combination for imaging and therapy. Additional studies are planned to determine an optimal therapeutic dose and schedule. Clinical trial information: NCT02609737

Diane Lauren Reidy 4094
Use of antiresorptive therapy (ART) and skeletal-related events (SREs) in patients with bone metastases of neuroendocrine neoplasms (NEN).

Conclusions: SREs in NEN patients with BM were not uncommon, especially in patients with grade 3 NEN and osteolytic metastases. Application of ART did not significantly alter median OS or TTSRE, no subgroup with a benefit of ART could be identified. The use of ART in NEN should be questioned and evaluated prospectively.

Leonidas Apostolidis 4096
Targeted radiopeptide therapy Re188-P2045 to treat neuroendocrine lung cancer

Conclusions: Rhenium Re 188 P2045, a radiolabeled somatostatin analog, may be used to both identify and treat lung cancer tumors. The ability to image and dose patients with the same targeted molecule enables a personalized medicine approach and this highly targeted patient therapy may significantly improve treatment of tumors that over express somatostatin receptor.

Christopher Peter Adams, Wasif M. Saif e20016

Thanks for reading

Ronny
Hey, I’m also active on Facebook.  Like my page for even more news.
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Don’t believe the hype – Neuroendocrine Cancer Myths debunked

Don't believe the hype - 10 myths

OPINION.

There’s a lot of inaccurate and out of date information out there.  Some of it is propaganda but most is a combination of misunderstanding and patient forum myth spreading …….

Myth 1:  All Neuroendocrine Tumours are benign

Not trueBy any scientific definition, the word ‘tumour’ means ‘an abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should. Tumours may be benign (not cancerous), or malignant (cancerous)’.  Sure, some NETs will be benign.  However, The World Health Organisation (WHO) 2010 classification is based on the concept that all NETs have malignant potential, and has therefore abandoned the division into benign and malignant NETs and tumours of uncertain malignant potential.  This has been reinforced in the 2017 update to include clarification for other types of NET including Pheochromocytoma. Read more here.  The word ‘Carcinoid’ is inextricably linked with this issue – read here why we need to stop using the term to help fight the benign myth.

benign-vs-malignant

Myth 2:  Neuroendocrine Tumours is a terminal condition

Not true.  By any definition of the word terminal in a medical diagnostic context, most NET patients have a good prognostic outlook, even those with metastatic and incurable variants of the disease. Read more here.

being_there_front
Graphic courtesy of Ellie McDowell

Myth 3: Carcinoid is another word for Neuroendocrine Tumours 

Not true.  Carcinoid is a very old term and was phased out years ago.  Carcinoid is not mentioned in the latest WHO Classification schemes for Neuroendocrine Neoplasms (a term covering Neuroendocrine Tumours and Neuroendocrine Carcinoma). Unfortunately, the problem is exacerbated by organisations and individuals who still use the word.  Also, those who use the following terms:

  • “Carcinoid Neuroendocrine”,
  • “Neuroendocrine Carcinoid”,
  • “Carcinoid and Neuroendocrine”,
  • “Neuroendocrine and Carcinoid”,
  • “Carcinoid NETs” or “CNET”

These are all contextually incorrect and misleading terms (not to mention the bad grammar). ENETS, NANETS and NCCN publications are gradually phasing the word out except in relation to Carcinoid Syndrome (and even then there could be easy solutions for this). Read more here and here.

carcinoid vs neuroendocrine

Myth 4:  All NET patients get ‘carcinoid syndrome’

Not true.  Firstly, many NET cancers are non-functional; and secondly, carcinoid syndrome is only one of a number of “NET Syndromes” associated with the various types of NET. However, the issue is further confused by those who use the word ‘Carcinoid‘ to incorrectly refer to all NETs and use Carcinoid Syndrome to refer to all NET Syndromes.  Read more here.

NET Syndromes

Myth 5:  Neuroendocrine Neolasms are rare

Not true.  As a collective grouping of cancers, this is no longer accurate. Read more here.  Also check out my post about the “Invisible NET Patient Population“.

Yao not rare

Myth 6:  Steve Jobs had Pancreatic Cancer

Not true.  Steve Jobs had a Neuroendocrine Tumour of the Pancreas.  Ditto for a few other famous names. Read more here.

steve jobs 2010
The last few years have reminded me that life is fragile

Myth 7:  I’m not getting chemotherapy, I must be doing OK?

Not true.  For some cancers or some sub-types of cancers, although it remains an option, chemotherapy is not particularly effective, e.g. some types of Neuroendocrine Cancer (NETs). In general, well differentiated NETs do not normally show a high degree of sensitivity to chemotherapy, although some primary locations fare better than others. However, many of the treatments for NET Cancer are somewhat harsh, have long-term consequences, and have no visible effects. NET patients are often said to “look well” but that doesn’t mean they are not struggling behind the scenes or under the surface.  Read more here.  P.S. Afinitor (Everolimus), Sutent (Sunitinib) are not chemo – Read more here.

chemotherapy-hand-and-arm

Myth 8:  All diarrhea is caused by carcinoid syndrome

Not true.  It could be one of the other syndromes or tumor types or a side effect of your treatment.  Check out this post.

NETCancer Diarrhea Jigsaw

Myth 9:  Neuroendocrine Tumours is a ‘good cancer’

Not true.  Simply, no cancer is good.  Some are statistically worse than others in prognostic terms, that’s true…… but living with NETs is very often not a walk in the park. However, no one cancer is better to get than any other – they’re all bad.  Read more here.

Good-Bad

Myth 10:  Every NET Patient was misdiagnosed for years

Not true.  Many NET Patients are correctly diagnosed early on in their investigation and in a reasonable time.  This myth is perpetuated because of two things: firstly, on forums, the ratio of long-term misdiagnosis is high creating a false perception; and secondly, the method of capturing patient surveys is not extensive enough – again creating a false perception.  In fact, the latest and largest database analysis from US indicates earlier diagnosis is improving, with more and more NETs being picked up at an early stage. Read more here.

if your doctors dont suspect something

Myth 11:  Somatostatin Analogues are a type of Chemotherapy

Not true.  Somatostatin Analogues (e.g. Octreotide and Lanreotide) are not chemotherapy, they are hormone inhibiting drugs.  They are more biotherapy. As the drugs latch onto somatostatin receptors, they are more targeted than systemic. For the record, Everolimus (Afinitor) and Sunitinib (Sutent) are not chemotherapy either. Read more here.

chemo-or-not-chemo

Myth 12:  Stuart Scott (ESPN) and Audrey Hepburn had Neuroendocrine Cancer. 

Not true. This is a common misunderstanding within the community.  They both had Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (PMP).  Read more about PMP here.

 

 

Myth 13:  I’ve been diagnosed with Neuroendocrine Tumours – my life is over

Not true.  Many patients live a very long time and lead fairly normal lives with the right treatment and support. It’s difficult but I try not to use ‘I can’t’ too much. Read more here.

I CAN

Myth 14:  There are only a handful of Neuroendocrine specialists in the world

Not true.  There are many specialists in many countries. Get links to specialists by clicking here.

10 questions to ask your doctor

Myth 15:  The Ga68 PET scan is replacing the CT and MRI scan in routine surveillance for all NET Patients

Not true.  It is actually replacing the Octreotide Scan for particular purposes,  or will eventually.  Read more by clicking here.

PET-CT-Scanner

Myth 16:  All NET Patients are Zebras

Not true.  They are in fact human beings and we should treat them as such. Please don’t call me a zebra and please don’t use the term on my social media sites.

hoofbeats

Myth 17: Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN) is a type of Neuroendocrine Tumour

Not true. Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia are syndromes and inherited disorders.  You can have MEN and not have any tumours.  However, these disorders can put people at more risk of developing Neuroendocrine or Endocrine Tumours. Read more here

genetics

Myth 18: Palliative Care means end of life or hospice care  

Not true. Palliative care is specialized medical care that focuses on providing patients relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. A multidisciplinary care team aims to improve quality of life for people who have serious or life-threatening illnesses, no matter the diagnosis or stage of disease. Read more here

The P word

Myth 19: Serotonin is found in foods

Not true. Serotonin is manufactured in the body. Read more here

brain-neurotransmitter-serotonin

Myth 20: NETs cannot be cured

Not true. If caught early enough, some NETs can be treated with curative intent (totally resected) with little or no further follow up.  It says this in ENETS and NANETS publications which are authored by our top specialists. If we can’t believe them, who can we believe? Read more here.

Can NETs be cured

Myth 21: Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (Creon etc) is only for pancreatic patients

Not true. It’s for any patient who is exhibiting exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. Read more here.

PERT

More to follow no doubt

For general cancer myths and the dangers of fake health news, please see my ARTICLE 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!

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There’s no such thing as a ‘tickbox’ Neuroendocrine Cancer patient

Thousand of people are diagnosed with cancer every day.  Many types of cancer have big patient populations due to the prevalence of diagnoses. They are so common that billions have been ploughed into research and care services.  Doctors are used to seeing lots of these patients and they have tried and tested treatments and care protocols. Many will come out of their treatments and under surveillance for a period (normally 5 years) and then declared in remission.


The problem with certain cancer symptoms is that they are not always clear cut.  For example, take symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, or fatigue – those can be caused by a whole host of things, many of which aren’t even cancer. It’s difficult for any doctor to work out the cause of such things let alone which tests to send them for – they can be really difficult boxes to tick. Worrying they can also be really easy boxes to tick for illnesses such as IBS, indigestion, menopause.

However, Neuroendocrine Cancer forms an increasing number of these diagnoses thanks to greater awareness, better diagnostic tools and more accurate reporting systems, including the ability to get the correct cancer type into the statistics.  However, although numbers are on the increase, it doesn’t necessarily directly relate to a better diagnostic experience – that is clear from the third reason I outlined above. Many people are still diagnosed too late. In addition, the scenario I outlined above is far from being a normal experience for a Neuroendocrine Cancer patient.

Neuroendocrine Tumours or NETs for short, is one of a number of ‘hard to detect’ cancers because many patients present with one or more of these vague symptoms.  It’s also one of the reasons why they are normally found at secondary care institutions and perhaps after several visits to a physician involving journeys back and forth between primary and secondary care before the diagnosis was finally made.  And then there is the  thousands and thousands of ‘undiagnosed’ either stuck in the diagnostic system or not yet aware they have NETs.

So what can be done to improve the diagnoses of ‘hard to detect’ cancers such as NETs? I don’t have any real answers for you although I have postulated a number of times about where we might focus in terms of education.

I’m fairly certain that medical science will come along with novel ways of helping but that is somewhat downstream.  If only a referral to a specialist could actually be a referral to a team of different but highly coordinated specialists – a bit like a Multi Disciplinary Team (like a ‘Tumor Board’) but operating at the pre-diagnostic phase with quick access to all the regular diagnostic tools without any further referrals. That would surely help cut down some of the ‘ping-pong’ visits between primary and secondary care and a team of experts is more likely to ‘think outside the box’ than a single specialist who is focused only his or her ‘speciality’.

In the meantime, if you see someone ticking a box, make sure you know which box is being ticked and challenge it if necessary

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

 

 

In the war on Neuroendocrine Cancer, let’s not forget to win the battle for better quality of life


Adding life to years is as important as

OPINION.  In the last 24 months, there seems to have been announcement after announcement of new and/or upgraded/enhanced diagnostics and treatment types for Neuroendocrine Cancer.  Increased availability of radionuclide scans, increased availability of radionuclide therapies, combination therapies, increased availability of somatostatin analogues, biological therapies, enhanced surgical and minimally invasive techniques, new oral drugs for carcinoid syndrome, more trials including  immunotherapy. Admittedly, some of the announcements are just expansions of existing therapies having been approved in new regions. Compared to some other cancers, even those which hit the headlines often, we appear to be doing not too badly. However, the pressure needs to stay on, all patients, regardless of where they live, need access to the best diagnostics and treatments for them; and at the requisite time. This alone is one very big unmet need in a whole range of countries still lacking.

The ‘War on Cancer’ forgot about Neuroendocrine

The ‘war on cancer’ has been around for the last 50 years, it’s still being waged.  There are now more ‘fronts’ and it’s taking longer than thought to find the ‘cure’. The recently announced Cancer Moonshot initiative is a timely ‘reinforcement’.  Despite this 50 year war, it seems like there’s only been a war on Neuroendocrine Cancer for the last 10 of those years. I guess they were focussed on the big cancers and/or the seemingly impossible ‘universal cure’.  Prior to that, for NETs, there is only evidence of some skirmishes, more like guerrilla warfare. Now we have a developed nuclear capability!  I believe the turning point was the SEER database work carried out by Dr James Yao in 2004 who confirmed the incidence had grown by 400% in 3 decades, i.e. confirming it was no longer rare. The rise of both incidence and prevalence was then amplified in the follow on 2012 study (Desari et al).  To be rare is to ignored, so I don’t understand the motives of those who ignore the indisputable mathematical facts available.

Let’s not forget about the consequences of cancer

It is true that half of people diagnosed with cancer now survive for at least ten years. Many live for years with cancer, on ‘watch and wait’ or going through various treatments and tests; their future remaining uncertain.  For this group, and even for those whose treatment has successfully removed or shrunk their tumour, the struggle with the consequences and late effects of cancer and its treatment can last for years.  Many Neuroendocrine Cancer patients fit into this category.

This is why I was very pleased to hear about the new International Neuroendocrine Cancer Alliance (INCA) campaign to not only address the ‘unmet’ needs of NET patients but to undertake to do it alongside NET specialists representing regional groupings.  I was also extremely happy to have been invited as a guest of INCA to attend the first ever joint patient-physician seminar hosted by ENETS followed by the annual INCA summit where doctors were also invited to form a panel for the first session. It’s worth remembering that I’m not part of the INCA alliance, nor do I represent any national organisation on this blog.  I’m simply RonnyAllan.NET  I was pleased to have asked the very first question about this particular unmet need, emphasising we need more support for those living with Neuroendocrine Cancer, including research into their common issues.

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The first question to the first ever joint patient-physician symposium

Unmet Needs for NETs

So, there’s a lot of treatments for many types of Neuroendocrine Cancer out there, just not everyone has access to them – therefore an unmet need at the international level.  Others are earlier diagnosis, access to multi-disciplinary teams (MDT), ability to access quality information at diagnosis and beyond including clinical trials, funding, accurate national registries to improve statistics and more treatments fot some of the less common types. One area where I feel there is a huge unmet need is in the area of patient support following diagnosis.  Although some countries are more advanced than others in this area, even in the so-called advanced countries, there are huge gaps in provision of long-term support for those living with Neuroendocrine Cancer. For example, physicians need to focus more on:

Late diagnosis. People will be dealing from the effects of late diagnosis which has resulted in metastatic disease – and some people will have been fighting misdiagnosed illnesses for years.  That takes its toll.

Consequences of Surgery. People will have had surgery which in many cases is life changing – various bits of the gut (gastrointestinal tract) are now missing, lungs are now missing – many other locations will have been excised or partly excised.  These bits of our anatomy were there for a purpose and QoL takes a hit when they are chopped out.

Inoperable Tumours and Syndromes. People will be dealing with remnant and/or inoperable tumours which may or may not be producing an associated NET syndrome (some of the symptoms can be rather debilitating in the worst cases)

Consequences of Non-surgical Treatment.  Additionally, people will be dealing with the side effects of multi-modal non surgical treatments, such as somatostatin analogue hormone therapy (Octreotide/Lanreotide), chemotherapy, biological therapy (mTOR inhibitors) (i.e. Everolimus (Afinitor)), biological therapy (protein kinase inhibitors (i.e. Sunitinib (Sutent)), radionuclide therapy (i.e. PRRT).  Whilst it’s great there are a wide range of therapies, they all come with side effects.

Secondary Illnesses and Comorbidities. Some people will have gained secondary illnesses in part due to the original cancer or treatment – e.g. somatostatin analogue hormone therapy can have a side effect of increasing blood sugar to diabetic levels.  There are many other examples.

Finances. NET Cancer can be an expensive cancer to treat and this is exacerbated by the length of time the treatment lasts. A highly prevalent cancer, treatment is for life.  It follows that NET Cancer is an ‘expensive’ cancer to have.  Whilst most people have access to free public services or private insurance, many people will still end up out-of-pocket due to their cancer.

Emotional Aspects. Many NET patients are kept under surveillance for the remainder of their lives.  With that comes the constant worry that the cancer progresses, tumours get bigger, new tumours show up, treatments are denied (i.e. PRRT in the UK).  It’s no surprise that anxiety and depression can affect many patients in these situations. To some extent, there can be a knock-on effect to close family members and carers where applicable.

As I said within my question to the INCA panel, even if you found a cure for NETs tomorrow, it will not replace the bits of my GI tract excised as part of my treatment.  For many people, even ‘beating’ cancer might not feel much like a ‘win’.  It’s a two-way street though – we need to work with our doctors, trying to change lifestyles to cope better with some of these issues.  This is why it’s really important to complete patient surveys. However, my point is this: more research into some of these issues (e.g. nutrition, optimum drug dosage, secondary effects) and earlier patient support to help understand and act on these issues, would be good starters.

“Adding life to years is as important as adding years to life”

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Recent Progress in NET Management – Positive presentation from Jonathan R Strosberg MD

jonathan-strosbergI recently wrote a blog called Neuroendocrine Cancer – Exciting Times Ahead! I wrote that on a day I was feeling particularly positive and at the time, I wanted to share that positivity with you. I genuinely believe there’s a lot of great things happening. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot still to be done, particularly in the area of diagnosis and quality of life after being diagnosed. However, this is a really great message from a well-known NET expert.

In an interview with OncLive, Jonathan R. Strosberg, MD, associate professor at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida, discussed his presentation on NETs at a recent 2016 Symposium, and shed light on the progress that has been made in this treatment landscape.

OncLive: Please highlight some of the main points from your presentation.

Strosberg: The question I was asked to address is whether we’re making progress in the management of NETs, and I think the answer is unequivocally yes. Prior to 2009, there were no positive published phase III trials.

Since then, there have been 8 trials, 7 of which have reached their primary endpoints. So it’s been a decade of significant improvement. And even though none of these studies were powered to look at overall survival as an endpoint, we’re certainly seeing evidence of improvement in outcomes.

OncLive: What are some of the pivotal agents that you feel have impacted the paradigm in the past several years?

Strosberg: The first group is the somatostatin analogs. We use them to control hormonal symptoms like carcinoid syndrome, but with the CLARINET study, we now know that they substantially inhibit tumor growth.

The next significant drug we use in this disease is everolimus (Afinitor), an oral mTOR inhibitor, which is now approved in several indications based on positive phase III studies. The first was in pancreatic NETs and subsequently, based on the RADIANT-4 trial, it was also approved in lung and gastrointestinal NETs. So that was an important advance.

The next important category of treatment is radiolabeled somatostatin analogs, otherwise known as peptide receptor radiotherapy. The one that’s been tested in a phase III trial is lutetium dotatate, also known as Lutathera. It was tested in patients with progressive midgut NETs and showed a very substantial 79% improvement in progression-free survival, and a very strong trend toward improvement in overall survival, which we hope will be confirmed upon final analysis.

OncLive: Are we getting better at diagnosing and managing the treatment of NETs?

Strosberg: Certainly. I think pathologists are better at making the diagnosis of a NET, rather than just calling a cancer pancreatic cancer or colorectal cancer. They’re recognizing the neuroendocrine aspects of the disease, and doing the appropriate immunohistochemical staining.

We also have better diagnostic tools. We used to rely primarily on octreoscan, and in many cases we still do, but there is a new diagnostic scan called Gallium-68 dotatate scan, also known as Netspot, which has substantially improved sensitivity and specificity. It’s not yet widely available, but it is FDA approved and hopefully will enable better diagnosis as well as staging in the coming years.

And, with the increase in number of phase III studies, we’re developing evidence-based guidelines, which will hopefully lead to more standardization, although knowing how to sequence these new drugs is still quite challenging.

OncLive: With sequencing, what are the main questions that we’re still trying to answer?

Strosberg: If we take, for example, NETs of the midgut, beyond first-line somatostatin analogs, physicians and patients often face decisions regarding where to proceed next, and for some patients with liver-dominant disease, liver-directed therapies are still an option.

For others, everolimus is a systemic option, and then hopefully lutetium dotatate will be an option based on approval of the drug, which is currently pending. Knowing how to choose among those 3 options is going to be a challenge, and I think there will be debates. Hopefully, clinical trials that compare one agent to another can help doctors make that choice. It’s even more complicated for pancreatic NETs. Beyond somatostatin analogs, we have about 5 choices—we have everolimus, sunitinib (Sutent), cytotoxic chemotherapy, liver-directed therapy, and peptide receptor radiotherapy. It’s even more challenging in that area.

OncLive: Are there any other ongoing clinical trials with some of these agents that you’re particularly excited about?

Strosberg: There’s a trial that is slated to take place in Europe which will compare lutetium dotatate with everolimus in advanced pancreatic NETs, and I think that’s going to be a very important trial that will help us get some information on both sequencing of these drugs, as well as the efficacy of Lutathera in the pancreatic NET population, based on well-run prospective clinical trials. I’m particularly looking forward to that trial.

OncLive: Looking to the future, what are some of the immediate challenges you hope to tackle with NETs?

Strosberg: One area of particular need is poorly differentiated neuroendocrine carcinomas. That’s a field that’s traditionally been understudied. There have been very few prospective clinical trials looking at this particular population, and we’re hoping that will change in the near future. There are a number of trials taking place looking at immunotherapy drugs. If these agents work anywhere in the neuroendocrine sphere, they are more likely to work in poorly differentiated or high-grade tumors, in my opinion, given the mutational profile of these cancers. So that’s something I’m particularly looking forward to being able to offer these patients something other than the cisplatin/etoposide combination that goes back decades, and is of short-lasting duration.

See more at: http://www.onclive.com/publications/oncology-live/2016/vol-17-no-24/expert-discusses-recent-progress-in-net-management#sthash.ypkilX2A.dpuf

Thanks for reading

Ronny

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Endoscopy for NETs – taking the camera to the tumour

endoscopy

An Endoscopy is a procedure where the inside of your body is examined using an instrument called an endoscope. This is a long, thin, flexible tube that has a light source and camera at one end. Images of the inside of your body are relayed to a television screen. Endoscopes can be inserted into the body through a natural opening, such as the mouth and down the throat, or through the bottom.  The mouth route is more accurately called a Gastroscopy and the anal route is called a Colonoscopy (or a reduced version called a Sigmoidoscopy).  An endoscope can also be inserted through a small cut (incision) made in the skin when keyhole surgery is being carried out.

Gastroscopy

During a routine 6 monthly check-up at the end of 2016, I mentioned to my Oncologist that I was experiencing what appeared to be very minor heartburn and that it was an unusual symptom for me. He called forward my annual Echocardiogram and also ordered up a Gastroscopy.

I received the Gastroscopy paperwork from the hospital for an appointment on 26 Jan 2017. It offered an option for sedation, either a throat spray to numb the area or a sedative where I would probably not know what was going on. My initial thought was the latter even though it meant a longer visit to the hospital with some other constraints. It also meant I would need to check the sedation to assess the risk of NET Crisis. However, having discussed this issue with the department nurse, I was persuaded to go for the throat spray – apparently 80% of people opt for this method. I just couldn’t resist the statistical challenge!  There were many advantages to selecting this option including getting rid of the sedation risk, plus I could walk out of the hospital immediately after the 5 minute procedure.  The sedation option meant that I would need to remain in the hospital for an extra hour to recover, not drive for 24 hours and be supervised by an adult for 12 hours.

My blood pressure was checked prior to the procedure and systolic was around 145, 10-20 points above my normal ‘cool as a cucumber’ figure.  Clearly, despite my deceptively stoic façade, something was making my heart work faster!

I was really put at ease by all 4 people in the room, two nurses, an endoscopic expert and a technician. However, the procedure itself is not what I would call a ‘breeze’. The throat spray was disgusting and said to taste of rotten bananas but personally I thought it was more like rotten fish!  For the first 60 seconds (total guess) I found myself wishing I had gone for the sedation but the next minute was better after I had stopped ‘gagging’ and was now breathing fairly normally. I found swallowing easy despite the tube and a nurse was also extracting excess saliva using a similar tool used in a dental procedure.  I was also aware that my eyes were watering!  The natural reaction of ‘gagging’ came back at least once but only for a second or two. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t scary at the time.

The procedure seemed to be in parts, he checked the oesophagus, pumped air into my stomach for a better view, sprayed some water (not sure why), took a peek in the duodenum which required an extra swallow from me, using another tool, he took a painless routine sample from the stomach lining to test for CLO (Helicobacter Pylori – a bacterium in the lining of the stomach that can cause peptic ulcers), extracted the air, and then the extraction of the endoscope out from the gastrointestinal tract.  These endoscopes really are like swiss army knives!

The best bit was the extraction!  The other best bit was when he told me there were no real issues.  So it was all worth it in the end!  If anyone wants a copy of my comprehensive and easy to read 6 page Gastroscopy guide, let me know.

Colonoscopy

The other main type of Endoscopy is the Colonoscopy which enters the gastrointestinal tract in the opposite direction.  I’ve had actually both a Gastroscopy and Colonoscopy before in 2008 before I was diagnosed.  I offered the mandatory request to do the endoscopy first if using the same scope 🙂 He’d heard it before! On this occasion I was fully sedated. One minute I was talking to the Gastroenterologist, then the next thing I remember was waking up, job done.  Less stressful but more time intensive. That said, the preparation for the colonoscopy is no joke. You can read about this in my blog Colonoscopy Comedy which also includes a light-hearted story about the preparation phase. If you need a laugh, this is really funny.

Although I have not had these, for completeness, I want to mention several associated procedures. 

Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS)

endoscultrasound_2012_1_2_59_117741_f1
The head of the Pancreas on the left surrounded by the duodenum, stomach to the right

For patients who have, or who are suspected of having pancreatic disease, their doctor may recommend that they undergo a type of procedure called an endoscopic ultrasound, or more often known as EUS. An EUS is a type of endoscopic examination. The EUS is a scan rather than a camera but a camera attachment will be used at some point, perhaps to do additional checks on the way.  It involves the insertion of a thin tube into the mouth and down into the stomach and the first part of the small intestine. At the tip of the tube is a small ultrasound probe that emits sound waves.  These sound waves bounce off of the surrounding structures, such as the stomach, small intestine, pancreas, bile ducts, and liver.  These sound waves are then recaptured by the probe and converted into black and white images that are then interpreted by your doctor.  Because the pancreas sits next to the stomach and small intestine, EUS allows the physician to get very detailed images of the pancreas.  This procedure is typically performed in an outpatient setting, and usually takes between 20 and 45 minutes.  One of the advantages of performing an EUS is that pancreatic biopsies can be obtained at the time of the examination.  These biopsies, often referred to as FNA, or fine-needle aspiration, can allow for your physician to collect tissue samples which can later be analysed under a microscope.  Special needles, designed to be used with the EUS scope, allow the physician to insert a small needle through the wall of the stomach or intestine directly into the pancreas. This video explains better: Click here.

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

ERCP is performed on an outpatient basis under sedation (rarely under general anesthesia). Using a “side-viewing” endoscope, called a duodenoscope, the duodenal “papilla”-(a mound-like structure that houses the opening of the common bile duct and the pancreatic duct)- is identified and manipulated. These areas can be examined and x-ray taken of the pancreatic duct, hepatic duct, common bile duct, duodenal papilla, and gallbladder.The endoscope is passed through the mouth and down into the first part of the small intestine (duodenum). A smaller tube (catheter) is then inserted through the endoscope into the bile and pancreatic ducts. A dye is injected through the catheter into the ducts, and an x-ray is taken. Also called ERCP.

Capsule Endoscopy (camera pill)

capsule-endoscopy
“Camera Pill”

Shortly after I was diagnosed, this was mentioned as an option for me as my diagnostic scans were just showing a “mass” and it wasnt 100% clear where my primary tumour was located.  It didn’t happen in the end. Capsule Endoscopy involves swallowing a small capsule (the size of the large vitamin pill).  The ‘cam-pill’ contains a colour camera, battery, light source and transmitter. The camera takes two pictures every second for eight hours, transmitting images to a data recorder about the size of a portable CD player that patients wear around the waist.

Capsule endoscopy assists in diagnosing gastrointestinal conditions in the small bowel such as: bleeding, malabsorption, chronic abdominal pain, and chronic diarrhoea.  Once swallowed the camera moves naturally through the digestive tract. Approximately eight hours after ingesting the camera, patients return to the Endoscopy Unit where the recording device is removed by the nurse, the images are downloaded to a computer and evaluated. The Capsule is disposable and will be passed naturally in the bowel movement.

Sigmoidoscopy

sigmoidoscopyA flexible sigmoidoscopy is a procedure that is used to look inside the rectum (back passage) and lower part of your large bowel (descending colon) and so is like an abbreviated version of a colonoscopy.

Bronchoscopy

bronchoscopyBronchoscopy is a procedure that allows the doctor to examine your trachea (windpipe), bronchi (branches of the airway) and some areas of the lung. A short thin flexible tube with a mini camera built into its tip, called a ‘bronchoscope’, is used for this procedure. The bronchoscope is usually passed through your mouth or nose, into your trachea and bronchi. The doctor can then get a clear view of your airways. During the procedure, the doctor may take samples of tissue (biopsy) or respiratory secretions for examination.  Bronchoscopies can also be used for ablation purposes. You may be interested in this award-winning biopsy and ablation service offered by the Royal Free Hospital in London UK – Innovation at Royal Free – Lung Biopsy and Radio Frequency Ablation Service

Thanks for reading about how physicians can take the camera directly to the sites of suspected tumours!

 

Thanks for listening

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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Road ahead closed – Bowel Obstructions

test npf

OK – we’ve gone through diagnosis, we’ve gone through treatment and now we need to live with the consequences of cancer and it’s treatment.  Not a day goes by when I don’t feel some twinge or some minor pain and I think ‘what was that?‘.  Fortunately, many things can just be day-to-day niggles. It’s the cancer …. easy to say, sometimes not easy to prove.

However, for Neuroendocrine Tumour (NET) patients who have had surgery, anything that seems like a bowel obstruction is quite a scary thought (I suspect this is also an issue for other cancer types).  In fact, even before diagnosis, a bowel obstruction rears its head as it can be how the condition is diagnosed in the first place, i.e. pain leads to more pain and that can sometimes result in a visit to the ER/A&E which can very often lead to a scan and an incidental diagnosis of NETs (and I suspect some other cancers).

I guess this isn’t just a threat for those who’ve had intestinal NETs but others in the vicinity of the intestines could also have this issue – the abdominal cavity is full of organs all very closely packed together! Both the small intestine and the large intestine can become blocked and if it can’t be unblocked by non-surgical means, it can become a bit of a drama for the patient. Blockages can be full or partial so it can often be a tough call for the medical team due to the effects of the patient’s existing surgery including but not limited to previous surgical scarring (adhesions), mesentery or retroperitoneal fibrosis complications (read about that by clicking here). Clearing the blockage by non-surgical means is the optimum solution. The presentational symptoms and scans can give immediate clues.  Although there are slightly different symptoms for large and small intestine (bowel) obstructions, the key symptoms of a blockage would appear to be:

Feeling bloated and full

Severe abdominal pain

Feeling sick

Vomiting large amounts

Constipation

Looking at some authoritative sites, the logical (and fairly obvious) decision steps seem to be:

Is there an obstruction or is the problem something else?

If an obstruction, where exactly is it?

What is causing the obstruction?

Are there any complications such as adhesions, twisted loops or hernias

Optimum treatment

In 2016, I had 3 bouts of constipation and I confess that a potential blockage did cross my mind on all 3 occasions. However, I was comforted by the fact that I had no nausea and/or vomiting which I suspect is one of the key symptoms indicating a blockage rather than just a sluggish system. Fortunately, on all 3 occasions, the matter settled following a few days of right-sided pain (RLQ). One occasion required lactulose but all three required patience sprinkled with a pinch of endurance!  I have to say the lactulose experience was not a good one – fatigue, brain fog and general malaise …..but much better than surgery.  If you have issues with ‘fear’ living with cancer, check out my 7 tips article by clicking here.

I’m once again making some adjustments to try to find the magic spot between stool frequency and bulk….. it’s really difficult and not an exact science.  I’m suspecting diverticular disease might be playing some part as I was diagnosed with a mild version in 2008 spotted during a colonoscopy (a common problem when you’re over 50). Although that tends to be a left-sided problem, I remain conscious that my ‘new plumbing’ may not be the best representation of a conventional layout!

NET Patient Foundation are really good at producing cards and there’s one for this too!  Here’s the back of it here:

NPF Bowel Obstruction Card Back

Thanks for reading

Check out my other posts with NPF cards:

Carcinoid Crisisclick here

The Diarrhea Jigsawclick here

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!

 

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

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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 – tumour markers and hormone levels

tumour-markers-molecular

I think most people have had a form of medical testing at some point in their life, i.e. the sampling and testing of blood, urine, saliva, stool or body tissue. In a nutshell, the medical staff are just measuring the content of a ‘substance’ and then taking a view whether this is normal or not based on pre-determined ranges. These tests are normally done as a physician’s reaction to symptom presentation or maintenance/surveillance of an existing diagnosed condition. Sometimes, abnormal results will lead to more specialist tests.

In cancer, these tests are frequently called ‘markers’. Most tumour markers are made by normal cells as well as by cancer cells; however, they are produced at much higher levels in cancerous conditions. These substances can be found in the blood, urine, stool, tumour tissue, or other tissues or bodily fluids of some patients with cancer. Most tumour markers are proteins. However, more recently, patterns of gene expression and changes to DNA have also begun to be used as tumour markers.  Many different tumour markers have been characterized and are in clinical use. Some are associated with only one type of cancer, whereas others are associated with two or more cancer types. No “universal” tumour marker that can detect any type of cancer has been found.

markers

There are some limitations to the use of tumor markers. Sometimes, noncancerous conditions can cause the levels of certain tumor markers to increase. In addition, not everyone with a particular type of cancer will have a higher level of a tumour marker associated with that cancer. Moreover, tumour markers have not been identified for every type of cancer. Tumour markers are not foolproof and other tests and checks are usually needed to learn more about a possible cancer or recurrence.

I’d also like to talk about a group of associated tests, in particular, hormone levels as these tests are really important to help determine the type of Neuroendocrine Tumour.  NETs will sometimes oversecrete hormones and this can give clues to the type.  The constraints mentioned above apply to hormone levels and other tests to a certain extent.

What this article will not cover

Routine Testing – the post will not cover routine blood tests (i.e. complete blood count etc).  Although they may point to a problem, these tests do not necessarily indicate a particular type of NET without other supporting evidence.

Biopsy Testing – Technically, the Immunohistochemical ‘stains’ used in biopsy testing are tumour markers but I’ll not be discussing that today. I did cover the output of biopsies in my blog on NETs – Stages and Grades.

Genetic Testing.  This is very specialised but you may find my Genetics and NETs article is of interest.

Sequencing of marker testing – diagnosis

The sequencing of marker testing may have been different for many patients.  In my own experience, I had a biopsy and then the biochemical checks were carried out. So regardless of the results of my marker tests, I was to be diagnosed with NETs. Those with lengthy and difficult diagnostic phases will perhaps have had a different sequence with the biochemical markers providing evidence for further tests to formally diagnose.  Markers alone will normally not be enough for a diagnosis but they do, however, feed into the treatment plan and provide a baseline at diagnosis and for tracking going forward.

Interpreting test results – International/National/Regional differences

The use of markers tends to be different on an international basis, e.g. specific marker tests can be developed in-country by independent labs. Testing can also vary in the same country as labs through the use of different commercially available ‘testing kits’.

Reference ranges are dependent on many factors, including patient age, gender, sample population, and test method, and numeric test results can have different meanings in different laboratories. The lab report containing your test results should include the relevant reference range for your test(s). Please consult your doctor or the laboratory that performed the test(s) to obtain the reference range if you do not have the lab report.

Moreover, the ‘normal’ test range can vary from hospital to hospital, even within the same tests. I can only imagine that clinical staff have their own versions of risk thresholds when dealing with test results. Even when results are just above or below, individual physicians can take their own view in a subjective manner. Testing is best done at the same lab each time if possible.

There’s a great website called LabTestsOnline which can describe each test. It’s peer-reviewed, non-commercial and patient-focused but just please note you should always refer to your own lab ‘normal ranges’ which will be printed on your test results.  For these reasons, you will not find reference ranges for the majority of tests described on this web site.  The link above will take you to the list of ‘country’ affiliated versions with specific information on a country basis.

Here’s some tips I always give people:

1 – Always try to get your own copy of results (preferably on paper) and track them yourself (I use a spreadsheet).

2 – When comparing results inside patient forums, always add the range and if possible, the unit of measurement (i.e. g/L, mmol/L, umol/L etc etc).  Failure to do this can at best confuse, and at worst frighten patients.  Compare apples with apples not with pears!

3 – Don’t get too excited about rises if the test is still inside the normal range – normal is normal!

4 – Don’t get too excited about rises taking you just outside of normal range – your doctors are looking for bigger spikes.

5. Don’t get too excited about a single test result, your doctors are looking for trends, a single test result is not much to go on.

NET Markers

Although some routine blood markers (complete blood count etc) are useful in NETs, it’s pretty much impossible to cover these in any general detail.  I’m going to focus on tumor and hormone associated markers

There are many markers involved with NETs. Some do different jobs and some are just variants measuring the same thing (more or less efficiently). You may also see something called ‘gold standard’ in reference to NET Tumour markers. Although thinking is changing (more on this below) and can vary from country to country, it is generally accepted that Chromogranin A and 5HIAA are the gold standard markers for tumour bulk and tumour functionality respectively.  These gold standard tests may not be applicable to every type of NET, particularly 5HIAA. I’m also aware that US doctors are reducing the dependency on CgA and using Pancreastatin instead (although many are measuring both).

NETs are known to be heterogeneous in nature (i.e. consisting of or composed of dissimilar elements; not having a uniform quality throughout).  Whilst some markers can be used widely, it follows that there are many very specialist marker tests for individual types of NET.  I think this applies to 3 broad categories of NETs: Tumours known to potentially oversecrete Serotonin and and perhaps others (mainly midgut), Pancreatic NETs (or pNETs) secreting various hormones by type; and other less common types and/or syndromes which might be considered by some to be even more complex than the former two and in some cases there are big overlaps.

Another interesting thing about NET markers is that an undiagnosed patient may undergo several specialist tests to eliminate the many possibilities that are being presented as vague and common symptoms.  Sometimes this is necessary to eliminate or ‘home in’ on a tumour type or syndrome/hormone involved (it’s that jigsaw thing again!).

Markers too can be divided into broad categories, those measuring how much tumour is in your body and its growth potential and those measuring how functional (or not) those tumours are.  The latter can probably be expanded to measure/assess excess hormone secretion and syndromes.

The Anatomy

Certain tests can be anatomy related so to add context and to prevent big repetitive lists when using the terms ‘foregut’, ‘midgut’ and ‘hindgut’, you may find this graphic useful.

foregut midgut hindgut

Markers for measuring Tumour bulk or load/growth prediction

Chromogranin (plasma/blood test)

cgaChromogranin is an acidic protein released along with catecholamines from chromaffin cells and nerve terminals. This statement alone might explain why it is a good marker to use with NETs.  Depending on the test kit being used, you may see test results for Chromogranin A (CgA) and Chromogranin B (CgB) – the inclusion of CgB tends to be confined to Europe. There is also mention of Chromogranin C (CgC) in places but I’ve never heard of this being used in conjunction with NETs.

One of the disadvantages of CgA is that the results can be skewed by those taking Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs).  Many NET patients are taking PPIs to treat GERD (….and Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome). In the long-term, this has the result of increasing gastrin levels which can lead to an increase of CgA in the blood including for some months after discontinuing. CgB is said not be as influenced by the use of PPI as CgA. In addition to the issue with PPIs, CgA levels may also be elevated in other illnesses including severe hypertension and renal insufficiency. CgB is also said to be more sensitive to Pheochromocytoma.

Elevated CgA is a constant and somewhat excitable discussion point on patient forums and not just because of the lack of unit of measurement use I discussed above. Some people get quite excited about a single test result.  I refer to Dr Woltering et al (ISI Book) where it clearly states that changes in CgA levels of more than 25% over baseline are considered significant and a trend in serial CgA levels over time has been proven to be a useful predictor of tumour growth (i.e. a single test result with an insignificant rise may not be important on its own).  Dr Woltering also gives good advice on marker tests when he says “normal is normal” (i.e. an increased result which is still in range is normal).

Here is a nice graphic explaining what else could be the cause of elevated CgA:

causes-of-cga-elevated

CgA appears to be a widely used tumour marker and is effective in most NETs (foregut, midgut and hindgut). It is also sensitive to Pheochromocytoma, particularly when correlated with a 131I-MIBG scan. Interestingly Chromogranin can also be used in the immunohistochemical staining of NET biopsy samples (along with other methods).

As for my own experience, my CgA was only elevated at diagnosis, remained elevated after intestinal surgery but returned to normal after liver surgery (indicating the effect of liver tumour bulk on results).  It also spiked out of range when some growth in a distant left axillary node was reported in Jan 2012.  Following a lymphadenectomy, it returned to normal again and has remained in range to this day.  It has been a good predictor of tumour bulk for me and I’m currently tested every 6 months.

Pancreastatin

In effect, this marker does the same job as CgA.  Interestingly, Pancreastatin is actually a fragment of the CgA molecule. There have been many studies (mainly in the US) indicating this is a more efficient marker than CgA, and not only because it is not influenced by the use of PPI.  It has also been suggested that it’s more sensitive than CgA and therefore capable of detecting early increases in tumour burden. It has also been suggested it can be an indication of tumour ‘activity’ (whatever that means). It is widely used in the US and some physicians will use it in preference to CgA (…..although from what I read, CgA also seems to be tested alongside).  I’m starting to see this mentioned in the UK.

Neurokinin A (NKA)

This is not a well publicised test. However, it is something used in USA but I’d like to hear from others to validate its use elsewhere.  In a nutshell, this test, which only applies to well differentiated midgut NETs, appears to have some prognostic indication.  I discovered this test in the ISI NET Guidance and it’s backed up by a study authored by names such as Woltering, O’Dorisio, Vinik, et al.  This is not a one-off test but one designed to be taken serially, i.e. a number of consecutive tests.  These authors believe that NKA can also aid in the early identification of patients with more aggressive tumors, allowing for better clinical management of these patients.  NKA is sometimes called Substance K.

Neuron-Specific Enolase (NSE)

In patients with suspected NET who have no clear elevations in the primary tumor markers used to diagnose these conditions, an elevated serum NSE level supports the clinical suspicion.

Markers for measuring Tumour functionality/hormone/peptide levels

So far, I’ve covered basic tumor markers which have a tumor bulk and/or prognostic indication.  This section is a slightly more complex area and many more tests are involved. There’s often a correlation between CgA/Pancreastatin and these type of markers in many patients i.e. a serial high level of CgA might indicate a high level of tumour bulk and therefore increased production of a hormone in patients with a syndrome or oversecreting tumor. However, it frequently does not work out like that, particularly when dealing with non-functioning tumours.

The type of marker for this element of NET diagnosis and surveillance will vary depending on the type of NET and its location (to a certain extent).  Like tumour bulk/growth, there might be different options or test variants on an international basis. There are too many to list here, so I’ll only cover the most common.

Serotonin Secreting Tumors

There are a few markers in use for measuring the functionality of this grouping of tumours. This tumour group has a tendency to secrete excess amounts of the hormone Serotonin although it differs depending on the area of the primary. For example, hindgut tumours tend to secret lower levels than foregut and midgut and therefore this test may present within range.  Please also note there may be other hormones of note involved. The antiquated and misleading term ‘Carcinoid’ is sometimes used as a descriptor for these tumours and more and more NET scientific organisations and specialists are now avoiding use of this term.

lug-the-jug
Lug the Jug

5HIAA.  5HIAA is a metabolite of Serotonin thus why it’s a useful thing to measure to assess functionality in this grouping of tumours. 5HIAA is actually the ‘gold standard’ test for functioning serotonin secreting tumours. It’s a key measure of the effects of carcinoid syndrome and the risk of succumbing to carcinoid heart disease.  However, there are two methods of testing:  Urine and Plasma. The latter is mainly used in USA but other countries are now looking at implementing the plasma version (in fact I’m now tested in both at my local hospital in UK).  The rather obvious key difference between the two is practicality. With the 24 hour urine, there are two key issues: 1.  The logistics (i.e. lug the jug).  2.  Fasting for up to 3 days prior to the test (4 if you count the day of the test). There are numerous variations on the fasting theme but most labs tend to say not to eat at least the following foods that contain high levels of serotonin producing amines: avocados, bananas, chocolate, kiwi fruit, pineapple, plums, tomatoes, and walnuts.  Some lists contain additional items. With the plasma version, the fasting period is reduced to 8 hours. There are also medicinal limitations including drugs that can also alter 5-HIAA urine values, such as acetanilide, phenacetin, glyceryl guaiacolate (found in many cough syrups), methocarbamol, and reserpine. Drugs that can decrease urinary 5-HIAA levels include heparin, isoniazid, levodopa, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, methenamine, methyldopa, phenothiazines, and tricyclic antidepressants. Patients should talk to their doctor before decreasing or discontinuing any medications.

As for my own experience, my 5HIAA (urine) was elevated at diagnosis only returning to normal after removal of my primary and commencement of Lanreotide. It has been a good measure of tumour functionality for me and I’m currently tested every 6 months.

Other tests for the tumour subgroup include but not limited to:

Serum Serotonin (5-HydroxyTryptamine; 5-HT).  Firstly let’s deconflict between 5HIAA above and the serotonin (5-HT) blood test.  5HIAA is a metabolite of serotonin but the serotonin test is a measure of pure serotonin in the blood.  Morning specimens are preferred and this is a fasting test (10-12 hours).  There is always debate on forums about Serum Serotonin results.  I have Dr Liu on record as saying “a high serotonin level measured in the blood in isolation really isn’t that dangerous. It’s the 5HIAA (a breakdown product of serotonin, which is easily measured in the blood and urine) that is considered to be more indicative of persistent elevated hormone. It’s this test that is most closely related to the carcinoid heart disease”.

Substance P.   A substance associated with foregut and midgut tumours.  It is a vasoactive protein that can cause wheezing, diarrhea, tachycardia, flushing

Histamines – Usually associated with foregut tumors. Appears to be involved in patchy rashes and flushing.  The advice in the ISI NET book is no anti-histamine medication to be taken for 48 hours prior to blood draw.

Gastric NETs (Stomach)

Testing will be different depending on the Type:

  • Type 1 – Typical Low Grade, tends to be caused by atrophic gastritis.
  • Type 2 – Atypical Intermediate Grade and tends to be caused by gastrin secreting tumours.  Type 2 normally needs a check for MEN1/Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome.
  • Type 3 – Tend to be larger and more aggressive tumours.

The key makers are CgA and Gastrin although Gastrin may not be elevated in Type 3. Gastrin ph is useful to differentiate between Type 1 and Type 2.  5HIAA can be considered but Carcinoid Syndrome is rare in Gastric NETs.

NETs of the Pancreas (pNETs)

pancreatic-cells
There are many different types of cells in the pancreas

pNETs can be very difficult to diagnose and not only because they share some presentational similarities to their exocrine counterparts.  Some pNETs actually comprise tumours arising in the upper part of the duodenum (small intestine) close to the Pancreas. Moreover, more than half of pNETs are non-functional which increases the difficulty in suspecting and then finding the tumours.  However, where there is clinical presentation or suspicion, these symptoms can lead to the appropriate testing to support the output of scans. The fasting gut profile mentioned above can be useful in identifying the offending hormones when the type of NET is not yet known.

Gut Hormones (Glucagon, Gastrin, VIP, Somatostatin, Pancreatic Polypeptide)

A gut hormone screen is used for the diagnosis of a variety of endocrine tumours of the pancreas area. Analysis includes gastrin, VIP, somatostatin, pancreatic polypeptide, and glucagon, but there may be others depending on processes used by your ordering specialist or hospital.

Notes:

1. You may see this referred to as a ‘Fasting Gut Profile’ or a ‘Fasting Gut Hormone Profile’.

2.  The individual hormones measured seem to differ between hospital labs.

3.  The fasting conditions also vary between hospitals and labs but all agree the conditions are critical to the most accurate results. Always ask for instructions if you’re offered this test.

The gastrin test is usually requested to help detect high levels of gastrin and stomach acid. It is used to help diagnose gastrin-producing tumours called gastrinomas, Zollinger-Ellison (ZE) syndrome, and hyperplasia of G-cells, specialised cells in the stomach that produce gastrin. It may be measured to screen for the presence of multiple endocrine neoplasia type I (MEN) It may be used if a person has abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and recurrent peptic ulcers. A gastrin test may also be requested to look for recurrence of disease following surgical removal of a gastrinoma.

Vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) measurement is required for diagnosis of pancreatic tumour or a ganglioneuroma which secretes VIP. Administration of VIP to animals causes hyperglycaemia, inhibition of gastric acid, secretion of pancreatic bicarbonate and of small intestinal juice, and a lowering of systemic blood pressure with skin flush. These features are seen in patients with a tumour of this type which is secreting VIP.

Glucagon is measured for preoperative diagnosis of a glucagon-producing tumour of the pancreas in patients with diabetes and a characteristic skin rash (necrolytic migratory erythema).

Pancreatic polypeptide (PP) production is most commonly associated with tumours producing vasoactive intestinal polypeptide and with carcinoid syndrome and, less commonly, with insulinomas and gastrinomas.

When secreted by endocrine tumours, somatostatin appears to produce symptoms similar to those seen on pharmacological administration, i.e. steatorrhoea, diabetes mellitus and gall stones.

There are several types of pNETs, each with their own syndrome or hormone issue.  When they are suspected due to the presentational symptoms, the markers that could be used are listed below.  These types of tumours are complex and can be related to one or more syndromes.  A patient may be tested using multiple markers to include or exclude these.  Depending on other factors, some physicians may recommend additional marker testing in addition to the most common types below.

Insulinoma – Insulin, Proinsulin, C-peptide

Gastrinoma– Gastrin, Gastrin pH

Glucagonoma – Glucagon, Insulin, Pancreatic Polypeptide (PP), Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)

VIPoma – Vasoactive Intestinal Polypeptide (VIP), Electrolytes (due to profuse diarrhea)

Somatostatinoma – Somatostatin (plasma somatostatin like immunoreactivity)

PPoma – Pancreatic Polypeptide (PP)

Other NETs/Syndromes

Pheochromocytoma/Paraganglioma – Adrenaline-producing tumours. Plasma and urine catecholamines, plasma free total metanephrines, urine total metanephrines, vanillylmandelic acid (VMA)

Medullary Thyroid Cancer. Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) starts as a growth of abnormal cancer cells within the thyroid – the parafollicular C cells. In the hereditary form of medullary thyroid cancer (~20% of cases, often called Familial MTC or FMTC), the growth of these cells is due to a mutation in the RET gene which was inherited. This mutated gene may first produce a premalignant condition called C cell hyperplasia. The parafollicular C cells of the thyroid begin to have unregulated growth. In the inherited forms of medullary thyroid cancer, the growing C cells may form a bump or nodule in any portion of the thyroid gland.  Unlike papillary and follicular thyroid cancers, which arise from thyroid hormone-producing cells, medullary thyroid cancer originates in the parafollicular cells (also called C cells) of the thyroid. These cancer cells make a different hormone called calcitonin, which has nothing to do with the control of metabolism in the way  thyroid hormone does.  The other test often seen in MTC is Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA). CEA is a protein that is usually found in the blood at a very low level but might rise in certain cancers, such as medullary thyroid cancer. There is no direct relationship between serum calcitonin levels and extent of medullary thyroid cancer.  However, trending serum calcitonin and CEA levels can be a useful tool for doctors to consider in determining the pace of change of a patient’s medullary cancer.

Parathyroid– Parathyroid hormone (PTH), Serum Calcium.  Parathyroid hormone (PTH) is secreted from four parathyroid glands, which are small glands in the neck, located behind the thyroid gland. Parathyroid hormone regulates calcium levels in the blood, largely by increasing the levels when they are too low.  A primary problem in the parathyroid glands, producing too much parathyroid hormone causes raised calcium levels in the blood (hypercalcaemia – primary hyperparathyroidism). You may also be offered an additional test called Parathyroid Hormone-Related Peptide (PTHrP). They would probably also measure Serum Calcium in combination with these type of tests. The parathyroid is one of the ‘3 p’ locations often connected to Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia – MEN 1 – see MEN below.

Pituitary/Cushings – Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), Cortisol.

HPA AXIS – It’s important to note something called the HPA axis when discussing pituitary hormones as there is a natural and important connection and rhythm between the Hypothalamus, Pituitary and the Adrenal glands.

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is made in the corticotroph cells of the anterior pituitary gland. It’s production is stimulated by receiving corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) from the Hypothalamus. ACTH is secreted in several intermittent pulses during the day into the bloodstream and transported around the body. Like cortisol (see below), levels of ACTH are generally high in the morning when we wake up and fall throughout the day. This is called a diurnal rhythm. Once ACTH reaches the adrenal glands, it binds on to receptors causing the adrenal glands to secrete more cortisol, resulting in higher levels of cortisol in the blood. It also increases production of the chemical compounds that trigger an increase in other hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline. If too much is released, The effects of too much ACTH are mainly due to the increase in cortisol levels which result. Higher than normal levels of ACTH may be due to:

Cushing’s disease – this is the most common cause of increased ACTH. It is caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland (PitNET), which produces excess amounts of ACTH. (Please note, Cushing’s disease is just one of the numerous causes of Cushing’s syndrome). It is likely that a Cortisol test will also be ordered if Cushing’s is suspected.

Cortisol

This is a steroid hormone, one of the glucocorticoids, made in the cortex of the adrenal glands and then released into the blood, which transports it all round the body. Almost every cell contains receptors for cortisol and so cortisol can have lots of different actions depending on which sort of cells it is acting upon. These effects include controlling the body’s blood sugar levels and thus regulating metabolism acting as an anti-inflammatory, influencing memory formation, controlling salt and water balance, influencing blood pressure. Blood levels of cortisol vary dramatically, but generally are high in the morning when we wake up, and then fall throughout the day. This is called a diurnal rhythm. In people who work at night, this pattern is reversed, so the timing of cortisol release is clearly linked to daily activity patterns. In addition, in response to stress, extra cortisol is released to help the body to respond appropriately. Too much cortisol over a prolonged period of time can lead to Cushing’s syndrome.  Cortisol oversecretion can be associated with Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma (ACC) which can sometimes be grouped within the NET family.

Other hormones related to ACC include:

Androgens (e.g. Testosterone) – increased facial and body hair, particularly females. Deepened voice in females.

Estrogen – early signs of puberty in children, enlarged breast tissue in males.

Aldosterone – weight gain, high blood pressure.

Adrenal Insufficiency (Addison’s Disease) occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce enough of the hormone cortisol and in some cases, the hormone aldosterone. For this reason, the disease is sometimes called chronic adrenal insufficiency, or hypocortisolism.

A tumour outside the pituitary gland, producing ACTH (also called ectopic ACTH). With NETs, this is normally a pNET, Lung/Bronchial NET or Pheochromocytoma.

Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN).  Please note MEN is a group of distinct syndrome not a tumor.  Complex area and tends to be multiple instances of some of the tumours above.  For a breakdown of MEN types and locations, check out my MEN blog ‘Running in the Family’

Carcinoid Heart Disease(CHD) (Hedinger syndrome)  I’m not really talking directly about a tumour here but thought it would be useful to include a blood test called NT-proBNP.  I’ve left a link to my CHD article in the paragraph heading for those who wish to learn more about CHD in general.  For those not offered an annual Echocardiogram or are ‘non-syndromic’ there is a screening test that can give an indication of any heart issue which might then need further checks.

The Future – Molecular Markers?

This is testing using DNA and genes.  Exciting but complex – check out this article which involved some NETs.

Tumour Markers and Hormone levels – complex subject!

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!

Procrastination – it’s a killer

Colin-Firth-Stiff-Upper-Lip-
Stiff upper lip

It’s amazing to think that one minute I’m back from a holiday in the Caribbean and the next minute I’m being told the inside of my body is a ‘train crash’. Just how does that work?  In July 2010, I said to the Gastroenterologist investigating my low hemoglobin “I’m not even feeling ill”. He sent me to an Oncologist who then told me that without treatment, the prognosis wasn’t good (i.e. I would eventually die). I also told him I wasn’t feeling ill ….as if my protest was somehow going to reverse the situation!

The term ‘silent cancer’ was apt in my case……..  or was it my stiff upper lip?

  • 20 months prior I had a colonoscopy after a short-term change of stool colour. Nothing found.
  • I also had some very infrequent bouts of diarrhea –  I don’t normally get diarrhea so it must be something I’d eaten……… I carried on.
  • I started experiencing ‘flushing’ sensations (hot but dry) some 6-9 months prior to diagnosis – Despite this being very strange, I kept this to myself and ……..I carried on.
  • I was exhausted – I blamed it on my appetite for work……..I carried on.

Boy, am I now in tune with my body!  If you think something is wrong and it just isn’t normal, follow your gut instinct, see someone, see that someone again and then see someone else if necessary.  Keep a detailed diary of your symptoms, do your homework and let the medical practitioner know everything. This is the least you can do. This is also extremely relevant after diagnosis.

Doctors don’t have a cure for your “stiff upper lip”, there is no prescription.  Only YOU can take action.  Now go see that doctor or at least talk to someone.

Procrastination, aided and abetted by your ‘stiff upper lip’ – it’s a killer.

You may also enjoy my blog Poker Face or Cancer Card

Thanks for reading

Ronny Allan

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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 Neuroendocrine Cancer Treatment

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.

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!

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.

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.

As for my own strategy, I filtered out the advice from a NET specialist dietitian and have managed to make quite a difference to my Quality of Life (QoL) without resorting to really expensive drugs (which come with their own side effects).  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 (still assessing as at April 2018) 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 1.6).  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

You may be interested in this development

Toilet cards are available from NET Patient Foundation – email hello@netpatientfoundation.org

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!

What you don’t know might kill you

Barbados
In Barbados Heaven.  I didn’t know I had metastatic cancer but was about to find out on return to UK

6 years ago today Chris and I flew off to Barbados on holiday.  Both of us were looking forward to a nice break after a hectic start to 2010.  When we got back, we both agreed it was the most relaxing holiday we had ever been on.  It was heaven.

However, whilst I was lying on a sunbed soaking up the Caribbean sun drinking ‘pina coladas’, Neuroendocrine Tumours were growing in my small intestine, spreading into my mesenteric lymph nodes, into my liver, into my left armpit and into my left clavicle area.  The excess serotonin being released was causing a dense fibrotic retro-peritoneal reaction (desmoplasia) encircling my aorta and cava almost blocking the latter. That problem alone might have been the end of me.

Just prior to going on holiday, I knew I had an issue with a low haemoglobin blood test and was waiting to be told what would happen next.  However, I wasn’t even the slightest bit worried, this was ‘something and nothing’ despite the fact that I’d been ignoring a minor flushing sensation for 6 months.  When we returned from holiday, there was a letter of referral to a local anaemia clinic in 5 weeks time. To cut a long story short, I bypassed that and went straight to a Gastroenterologist and was diagnosed very shortly after with metastatic Neuroendocrine Cancer.

Neuroendocrine Cancer can be quiet and it loves when people ignore its devious and vague signs.  Fortunately I was able to get to NET Specialists and I’m still here to tell the tale.

The saying “what you don’t know won’t kill you” is not always accurate in the context of cancer.  Any cancer can kill. The consequences of cancer will also try.  

Education and awareness reduces the risk.

 

Thanks for listening

Ronny

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For those on twitter, please help me spread awareness by retweeting this:

 

Make some noise for a silent cancer


can be silent

One of the key aims of my blog is to create more awareness of Neuroendocrine Cancer (or NETs), its peculiarities, its effects, its ability to deceive, its ability to kill if left undetected and/or untreated; and its impact on Quality of Life (QoL). There are millions of people out there doing similar with thousands of other conditions. That means even to stand out a little, messages must be compelling, must attract attention; and must catch people’s interest.

In the last 36 months, I’ve generated a few ‘different’ awareness campaigns, some of which have been more successful than others and I learn from this.  One of them is actually now the most tweeted post about NETs on twitter.  Fortunately, I have had significant help from YOU because if you did not share my posts and blogs, they would not have the potential reach they currently do and would not, therefore, attract the new audiences I’m looking for (….and finding!). The same applies to Facebook, twitter and other parts of the social media universe.  I thank you all for the help to date.  However, the job is far from finished!

My main campaigns are listed here so please help yourself to the ones you like and feel free to support or sponsor.  Please note there are social media sharing buttons at the bottom of each post – or just simple cut and paste as required.

 

ignore-this-post

Neuroendocrine Cancer would love you to ignore this post.   This is a reverse psychology message which is designed to attract attention – and it does!.  It is currently the most tweeted post in the history of NET Cancer awareness.   If you are on twitter, please retweet the original post (quoting it in a new post is also great but please also retweet the original).  The tweet can be found by clicking here.  It’s also a great awareness post for any type of social media so please share as it gives a really simple and yet compelling awareness message about the danger of NET Cancer and ignoring symptoms, including after diagnosis.  Click here then share.

 

it-takes-guts-living-with4.jpg

Living with Neuroendocrine Cancer – it takes guts! This is a powerful message which lets people know what effects the consequences of Neuroendocrine Cancer and its treatment have on people’s lives. It’s not a pity party – I don’t do those (as you well know).

I also emphasise that it’s not all about diagnostic difficulties (as important as that might be), more focus needs to be placed on LIVING with NETs given that it is a highly prevalent cancer, and no longer rare.

The diagnostic angle was relevant 10 years ago but the focus needs to become much wider thus why the community needs to shift from the ‘same old same old’ to a ‘different new’. This post has attracted much interest from new audiences in the wider healthcare world. Read and share it by clicking here


sshh - can you hear it?

Neuroendocrine Cancer – ssh! Can you hear it?  This is the NETs is ‘silent’ theme and attracts a lot of support.  This really drives home the devious nature of NETs, the fact that it can be a very silent cancer until it’s too late and the difficulties that it presents with accurate diagnoses and subsequent ongoing monitoring.  The post can be found by clicking here

 

The Human Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer

The Human Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer This is a campaign to point out that NET Cancer is not confined to a particular part of the body and raises the issue of misdiagnosis, incorrect naming and recording of cancer types; and the loss of awareness opportunities, particularly when famous people are involved.  I never get fed up of sharing this one and it cannot be shared too many times!  Please feel free to share the hell out of this one.  The post can be found by clicking here

 

Early signs of a late diagnosis (2)

Neuroendocrine Cancer Syndromes – Early Signs of a Late Diagnosis

This is an awareness message to emphasize that there are a number of different syndromes involved in NETs in different parts of the body and that terminology and understanding is important to get the awareness messages right.  Click here.

 

 

Every day is NET Cancer DayEvery day is NET Cancer Day.  This post has had the largest number of 5 star ratings input by readers indicating support for my awareness strategy.   Don’t get me wrong, 10 Nov is special but the other 364 days also present awareness opportunities. You can read this blog by clicking hereYou can also register for my NET Cancer Day Social Media Event leading up to 10 Nov by clicking here and select ‘Going’ (then invite others please). On this event, Every Day is NET Cancer Day!

 

lets raise our sites

Let’s raise our ‘sites’. This awareness message also emphasizes the anatomy of NETs and the importance of the correct terminology in order to get the optimum and accurate awareness messages over.  I’m using the word ‘sites’ as a take on ‘sights’ – someone picked me up for spelling last time I posted!  Click here to read.

 

Neuroendocrine Cancer:  Normally Slow but Always Sneaky.   Very powerful message, scary but designed for external audiences.  My most read article with over 20,000 views in a year.

cancer-rates

 

Neuroendocrine Cancer is NOT a ‘type’ of another cancer …. PERIOD.  The anatomy of cancer works against us so we need to really drive this message home.  We lose a lot of publicity, resources, supporters and potential funding because of this misunderstanding.

A Neuroendocrine Tumour is NOT

 

The 9 posts above comprise around 20% of my total blog hits and these are the ones which are attracting new audiences who now know about Neuroendocrine Cancer and are telling others.  Please help me build on this.

Neuroendocrine Cancer can be silent but we shouldn’t be!

 

Stay well all

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!

If on twitter, please retweet this tweet   

 

NET Cancer – unexpected detours

getty_rm_cancer_diceI’ve mentioned ‘luck’ a few times in the past month following some more ‘cancerversary’ milestones – these tend to make me reflect on my experience.  Even though I was metastatic at diagnosis, I think of myself as lucky on the basis that my tumours were found by ‘chance’ or to be more accurate, found following an innocuous set of circumstances.  As we know, Neuroendocrine Cancer (NET Cancer) can sometimes be very difficult to discover and diagnose. However, sometimes with a bit of luck or a chance event, it can be intercepted leading to a much better outlook for the person concerned.  But sometimes there is also a cost and I don’t mean financial (although that is also a very real problem).  Despite me thinking I had been lucky, the ‘little suckers’ had burrowed their way into many places and I now deal with those consequences following significant treatment to get rid of as many as possible.

With my blogging activity, I get to hear other people’s stories, some of which have tweaked my emotions from ‘man style leaky eyes’ to wide-eyed surprise and astonishment, but very occasionally with smiles.  I had one such exchange with Mary who subsequently agreed to let me use her story in a blog.  Mary’s story immediately caught my eye because it not only triggered a wide range of emotions but it made me reflect on the cost aspect I described above.

Mary’s is a lung NET Cancer patient and her tumour was caught early.  Although it was a totally chance discovery, it was in really unfortunate circumstances. Her brother Dan was fighting leukaemia and needed a life saving stem cell transplant. During the checks for her suitability as a donor, the lung tumour was discovered.  Clearly a very worrying time for Mary as she had gone to the hospital to try to save her brother’s life and ended up being admitted with her own cancer diagnosis.  I cannot begin to imagine how that felt for the whole family.  Fortunately Mary’s sister was found suitable and was able to donate,  Their brother later had a successful transplant but unfortunately the cancer recurred and he passed away a short while later.

That’s an amazing story but it invokes a wide range of emotions.  It’s also a very inspiring story about a family coming together in time of crisis.  Mary went to hospital that day to try to save Dan’s life and despite her own diagnosis, she still felt guilty that she was unable to fulfil that task.  However, before his passing, Dan let it be known that he must have gotten sick to save her life.  That’s a heart-warming thought – RIP Dan <3

I’m very thankful to Mary who agreed to let me publish her story here.  It was actually featured a couple of years ago in their local newspaper – you can read it here – <Click here>

I’d love to hear from others who had a lucky or chance tumour find.

Thanks for reading

Ronny Allan

I’m also active on Facebook.  Like my page for even more news.

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I’m only as good as my last scan

scancake
Scanning – a piece of cake!

“I’m only as good as my last scan”. I received this comment last week in response to one of my posts and I thought it was a very pragmatic thing for someone to say.

A NET patient under surveillance has regular tests at determined intervals but the one that is most likely to spot disease progression, stability or regression is a scan. Markers such as (say) Chromogranin A (CgA) or 5HIAA are clearly useful but in an ongoing surveillance scenario, they alone would not be used as a firm declaration of progression, stability or regression. Every picture tells a story and a scan is normally the confirmation required whether it’s a CT, MRI or PET (etc).

IF YOU CAN SEE IT YOU CAN DETECT IT! (click here for a post about scans)

octreo-vs-g68
Octreoscan vs Ga68 PET

Scans are also important at the diagnostic phase and I’m sure like myself, many people had their first ever scan at this point.  You can have many checks, investigations and tests but for most, the scan is normally the main test that is going to confirm the presence of tumours.  This then leads to further checks to confirm the staging and grading (i.e. a biopsy) and then hopefully, a proper diagnosis.

I don’t mind scans, they are probably the test that is going to alert my team to anything odd going on.  Thus why I don’t mind doing them – in fact, they are a piece of cake!

Thanks for listening

Ronny

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“Trust me, I’m a Doctor”

0c56a9eOne of the most frequent posts on forums is about the Patient-Doctor relationship (or occasionally a lack of it…..).   Personally, I have a lot of time and respect for all medical staff and I suspect that has been influenced by my general life experience, perhaps cemented since my diagnosis of metastatic Neuroendocrine Cancer in 2010.  The vast majority of people tend to trust Doctors and I’m a bit old-fashioned in this respect.  If you have metastatic Neuroendocrine Cancer, you see medical staff a lot!  Relationships and communication can therefore become more important than ever.

However, people with less common conditions can perhaps be more difficult to satisfy.  A ‘generalist’ doctor (i.e. a GP or PCP) is unlikely to be very knowledgeable about every single condition. Even at secondary care level, certain less common conditions still need dedicated specialists and these services may not be located at every hospital. Clearly with Neuroendocrine Cancer, the optimum scenario is to be treated at a NET specialist centre or at least be overseen by them.  However, these can be thin on the ground and/or the medical system in place is not able to provide access to these experts. Geography may also be playing a part causing further anxiety and this is not helpful if you are already fighting cancer.  Communications and relationships between patients and doctors can therefore be more difficult even with the right diagnosis.

I see so many issues on forums ranging from people who are simply looking for a specialist to people who still don’t think they got the right treatment from the specialist they eventually found.  Emotions directed at physicians range from ‘god-like adulation’ to offers of violence!   If you only looked at forums, you would believe there are only a handful of NET Cancer specialists when in fact there are many more than this. Check out the most up to date lists inside this article – click here.

I know from talking to other patients that some have not had the ideal experience with their doctor(s).  Even those who found a NET specialist report the odd issue and feelings of unhappiness.  I never cite these issues publicly, in particular the hospital or the doctor, because for every one of these stories, you can find dozens of good patient experiences with the same hospital and doctor.

It’s a really complex area and it can be compounded by the health system in place but many things are common across the board.  One of the reasons making it complex is that it can be about relationships and communication – both ways!   Thus why I was interested to read an article by a physician who listed a number of tips for patients which I think are as relevant to Neuroendocrine Cancer as they are to other conditions (……in fact some more so!).  Relationships and communication will not cure or reduce your cancer; or debulk your tumours – well not directly ….. but it can help along the way.  And although the article appears to be written in a post diagnosis context, some of it is also relevant to pre-diagnosis.

The top 8 tips are:

  1. Know your own communication style and preference for informing and being informedThis is an interesting point which I hadn’t really thought about.  That said, some of the response to this tip can be addressed in some of the other tips.  I guess in hindsight, asking my doctors not to hide stuff and to just “hit me with it” is an indication that I had set my preferences early on. I wanted to know the real problems I was facing.  Additionally, my Oncologist knows I like copies of all tests and reports and he obligesI always take notes.
  2. Think about how you prefer to hear important health information such as the results of a biopsy or a scan and then convey that to your doctor or nurse.  I think this is partly addressed above.  I see my MDT face to face every 6 months but if it is for bad news, I would certainly like some notice in order that I can be accompanied by my wife. I don’t think I’ve made that clear enough so an action for me here.
  3. Prioritize your concerns, if you present your doctor with a very long list of questions or symptoms at the very end of the visit, it’s quite likely that you will both end up frustrated.  I have experienced this issue many times but gradually I’ve learned how to improve this form of communication.  It’s easy to forget your physician has other patients and only has a finite time to spend on your case.  I now send my Oncologist a summary email with my top 3 or 4 concerns and I do this around 2 weeks prior to each appointment.  I copy in the specialist nurse who is mostly already aware via frequent communications.  This not only gives them some time to read but also prevents the scenario above.  It’s starting to work better.
  4.  Make your needs known, doctors and nurses cannot read your mind.  This is an absolutely key tip as far as I’m concerned.  I believe the patient is the most underused person in healthcare.  Patients have a part to play in their own  diagnosis phase and this continues all the way through to ongoing treatment (including wary of the doctor).  Patients must have a voice and patients must use this voice to describe what’s going wrong with their body and what’s troubling their mind.  Doctors and nurses cannot read your mind but they must listen to your voice.
  5. Trust the clinicians involved in your care and think of them as partners.  I think all clinicians want us to trust them after all they’ve done the 10 years training and we have not!  However, with less than common conditions, I suspect patients probably need to be wary and advocate more. I think of myself as a partner (part of the MDT for the period of my consultation) and so by default, I already think this way.
  6. Beware of the common trap of thinking in terms of all or nothing or rushing to conclusions.  This is an interesting one for incurable but treatable cancers.  I think with incurable Neuroendocrine Cancer, you need to be prepared for a long haul and the occasional bump along the windy road.  Services and inspections will need to be done and tyres will need to be changed.  It’s not a perfect journey and don’t trust the SatNav!
  7. Share the burden of not knowing how things will ultimately work out.  This is a difficult one and I suspect each person will have their own concerns and their own way of dealing with it.  I’m thinking this might be more important for younger patients who have young families to look after.  I’m a ‘glass half full’ person so it’s an awkward one for me.  I guess as I’m feeling confident I’m not leaving anytime soon, it’s something still stuck in the back of my mind.
  8.  Find ways of being at ease, even during frightening or turbulent situations.  Easier said than done!  Again, we all have different ways of dealing with our situations but I do believe if you have addressed all the tips above, this should make it easier.  I also think that learning a lot more about your disease really helps to communicate about it better.

——————————————-

I’m often shocked to hear that people ‘fire’ their doctor but I guess if you are paying out of your own pocket, it can be an apt word to use! Clearly if the service you receive is not working to your expectations, then a move might be beneficial for both parties.  It’s a big decision though and for those who have moved on, I sincerely hope the grass has been greener on the other side.

You can read the full article from Cancer Knowledge Network here: Reflections on patient-physician communication

You may enjoy my article – Diagnosed with Neuroendocrine Cancer? – 10 Questions to ask your Doctor

And this one – 7 tips for conquering fear

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!

 

 

Innovation at Royal Free – Lung Biopsy and Radio Frequency Ablation Service

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Image with permission from Dr Sam Hare (www.lungdiagnosis.com)

A team of radiologists and respiratory consultants who introduced a new and more efficient lung biopsy method at Barnet Hospital London, has been named the winner of the NHS Innovation Challenge Prize in the ‘cancer care’ category.  Barnet Hospital is run by the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust which is well known for its Neuroendocrine Cancer Centre of Excellence.

Not happy with this, they’ve now gone on to introduce a new service combining this innovative biopsy system with Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA) of tumours in the same procedure.

Combined Biopsy with Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA)

This new service has significant advantages for those who have localised tumours less than 3cm and can’t for whatever reason have surgery.  I’ve checked with Dr Hare and he confirms this includes Neuroendocrine Tumours of the Lung. There are a number of advantages for having this procedure:

1. Biopsy and RFA at same time to prevent patient having to have 2 procedures.  Those who meet this criteria with an existing biopsy can go straight to RFA.

2. It’s a low risk, minimally invasive procedure.

3. As its under mild sedation rather than General Anaesthetic (GA)  – patients go home later the same day – makes recovery time so much quicker.

4. RFAs can be repeated as many times as you want if tumour ever grows.

5. Lungs are preserved.

It’s also worth noting that RFA as a standalone treatment can be used on lung metastases. You can read more about this new service here.

Award winning ambulatory lung biopsy service

The team’s innovative ambulatory lung biopsy service enables the vast majority of patients to be discharged just 30 minutes after their biopsy. Dr Hare is a pioneer in UK lung biopsy technique and has improved patient experience using a shorter, less painful biopsy process with a higher diagnostic accuracy and less time spent in hospital. Dr Hare specialises in image-guided lung biopsy techniques having gained expertise in the procedure working in North America.  Dr Hare’s innovative use of a Heimlich Valve Chest Drain (HVCD) allows more successful biopsy of small lung nodules which can potentially lead to earlier cancer diagnosis.

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Heimlich Valve Chest Drain (HVCD) (permission from Dr Hare (www.lungdiagnosis.com)

I spoke to Dr Hare via twitter and he confirmed this novel service is for any tumour in the lung (primary or metastasis) and he indicated they were “finding more and more are coming back as Neuroendocrine Tumours”.

You can read more about Dr Hare and his work here (www.lungdiagnosis) and this video explains it in excellent detail including the difference between conventional methods and this new ‘award winning’ way!  Read more about the award on the Royal Free site here.

Congratulations to Dr Hare and the rest of the team for winning this award!

Thanks for reading

Ronny Allan

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Ignore this post about Neuroendocrine Cancer

ignore-this-post

When I was diagnosed, I wasn’t feeling ill. In hindsight, I now know some of the signs were there, I just put up with them. Neuroendocrine Cancer had laid a trap for me and I fell right into it. You see, Neuroendocrine Cancer can be very quiet and unobtrusive. It also plays the ‘long game’ and will sometimes take years before it’s finally discovered.

Not satisfied with loitering in your small intestine, appendix, lungs, stomach, pancreas and a host of other places, it wants to reach out to your liver, your lymph nodes, your bones and your heart where it can cause the most damage. It will also try to get into your head, metaphorically speaking – however, it will also try the physical route.

As it spreads, it can become noisier through growth but also by secreting excess amounts of hormones and other substances. It knows that tumour growth and these excess hormones and substances will mimic routine illnesses such as IBS, diarrhea, stool changes including steatorrhoea, stomach cramps and bloating, asthma, facial flushing, menopause, weight loss, anaemia, fatigue, tachycardia (fast heart beat), pain, and nausea. These may manifest themselves as common endocrine conditions e.g. it can mess with your blood sugar levels.  These are a few examples, there can be many other confusing symptoms. Neuroendocrine Cancer thinks this is great because it fools doctors into misdiagnosing you with something else which means it can continue to grow undetected and spread further inside you. If nothing is done to stop its relentless growth, it will eventually kill.

However, sometimes an inquisitive doctor or nurse upsets its progress by thinking ‘outside the box’. Neuroendocrine Cancer hates when people are aware of its devious nature and hates when people know which tests can be used to find it and which treatments are best to attack it. Inquisitive, proactive and determined patients can also add to this effect and sometimes a bit of luck is involved.

It doesn’t give up easy and tries to work around your treatment. It knows your treatment will come with certain consequences and it will try to exploit this situation by keeping you guessing between cancer activity and these consequences. It really hates observant medical staff and patients, particularly those who understand Neuroendocrine Cancer.

Unfortunately for Neuroendocrine Cancer, there is now more knowledge about its devious activities and the latest statistics indicate it’s starting to be caught earlier. Nonetheless, we cannot afford to become complacent.

Neuroendocrine Cancer hates awareness and it will be extremely happy if you don’t share this post.

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!

Not all cancers are black, white, blue, pink – some are very grey

Not all cancers are black, white,

Over the last few months, I’ve seen quite a few posts entitled “Not all Cancer is pink”.  I suspect it’s a reference to the ubiquitous publicity that many women’s cancer related advocates, bloggers and organisations attract.

Those who use this phrase are perhaps concerned there is an imbalance and inherent unfairness in the distribution of support and are frustrated that their own cancer does not fare as well publicly? I share that frustration, however, I take my hat off to the battalions of advocates, bloggers and organisations who work very hard for breast and the various gyneacological cancers whether they push pink or not (and for the record, they don’t all push or even agree with the ‘pink’ thing).

I’ve even seen this term used within my own community – ‘Not all cancer is pink, some are black and white’.  This is clearly an attempt to tie in the well-known ‘pink’ to the not so well-known ‘black and white’. Notwithstanding the potential for upsetting hard-working women’s cancer organisations and the fact that those in the NET community who push the pink ‘insult’, do not have a corresponding ‘Not all cancer is blue’ article, I also think we might be missing a trick.

And here’s the trick which is my alternative view on where we should be focused – Not all Cancer is black and white and nothing in cancer is ever black and white.  As I don’t want to indulge in ‘Cancer Olympics’ (it can backfire), I’m clearly talking about the context of the phrase ‘black and white’ rather than the ribbon colours.

Let me explain my logic.  There are two sides to most people’s experience or perception of cancer.  Firstly, symptoms appear, a diagnosis is made, treatment is applied and if it works, the patient will hopefully go into remission after a period of time, normally 5 years.  The other side is that sadly, some people may not survive the ordeal and that even applies to certain so-called ‘pink’ cancers (metastatic breast cancer for example). Clearly there are variations of my very simple binary explanation but these two outcomes are very common scenarios.

However, many cancers (including my own Neuroendocrine Cancer) are often silent, produce vague symptoms, are difficult to diagnose, treatment plans can be a challenge, most metastatic patients and many with other stages will never really be cured, and will need lifelong support (another challenge we need to focus on).  They are extremely cunning and sneakyNeuroendocrine Cancer has many ‘grey’ areas.  Clearly there are also variations on this theme but with many scenarios and different outcomes.

Not all cancer is pink, that’s true. However, not all cancer is ‘black and white’ – some can be extremely ‘grey’. This is one of the reasons why I say “Every single day is NET Cancer Day“.

If we want more attention, let’s learn from other cancer awareness activities instead of attacking their colours.  Lesson No 1 – they don’t use animals as icons because people won’t take them seriously.

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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Neuroendocrine Cancer – a difficult jigsaw

Book of NETS
A book listing all the possible symptoms of NETs

A couple of months ago, I received a request from a reader asking if I would blog about all the symptoms experienced by a Neuroendocrine Cancer (NET Cancer) patient and how to sort out what is and what isn’t associated with NET Cancer.

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 have, however, dabbled in attempts to work out my own problems over the past few years. NET Cancer can present with its own ‘syndrome’ – a bunch of symptoms normally caused by excessive hormone secretion, some of which are particularly vague and can sometimes continue to cause issues after treatment and beyond. In my blog “Neuroendocrine Cancer Syndromes – early signs of a late diagnosis”, I focused on the key symptoms experienced pre-diagnosis and then discussed how you might go about sorting out the symptoms from main side effects post treatment (another regular conundrum for most).  On a similar subject, you might want to check out my 5 E’s blog.

Adding to the issues with cancer and side effects, common comorbidities (many of an endocrine nature) can arise simultaneously and many patients are also (coincidentally) at an age where the body naturally starts to go faulty. All of these factors can make it really difficult to determine the source of the symptoms.

Here’s another classic example of this problem, I can see many people on forums also have diabetes (an endocrine disease). In the United States alone, nearly 7 million people have undiagnosed diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.  I can also see from the news in UK, that this is becoming a much bigger deal too – a report published in Feb 2018 claims that diagnoses have doubled in 20 years.  I’ve used the diabetes link as an example, there will be many other factors at play, e.g. hypothyroidism.  It is certainly possible that many of the problems people face might just be an as yet undiagnosed condition unconnected with NET Cancer. To quote the great Dr Eric Liu, “even NET Patients get regular illnesses”.

In fact, on forums where most people have a diagnosis and are undergoing treatment, there is regular discussion and Q&As about the source of symptoms, i.e. are they a result of a functioning syndrome (i.e. a consequence of the cancer) or something else?  For example, some people complain they still have (so-called) carcinoid syndrome diarrhea after bowel surgery………that needs some careful thought and understanding before coming to what might just be the wrong conclusion, particularly if all tumour markers are normal.  I have lost count of the number of times someone has asked about a symptom on a forum and got 50 different answers. One of the reasons why forums can be good at frightening rather than frighteningly good.  Personally, I never compare myself to strangers on the internet. I just hope most people are using the forums as ‘sounding boards’ and are simultaneously addressing these very complex issues with their doctors when they are genuinely concerned.

I really feel for anyone who is going through a difficult diagnosis or has been diagnosed and then continues to have numerous problems after initial treatment.  I also have a little bit of sympathy for primary care medical staff on the basis this is just one of over 200 types of cancer, many of which have wide age groupings adding to the complexity and difficulty. Moreover, many of the symptoms experienced by NET Cancer patients on analysis look very similar to everyday illnesses and other ailments. And if that wasn’t demanding enough for doctors, many patients present with already established and diagnosed comorbidities (other illnesses) which add another level of complexity. These difficulties can then continue throughout treatment. It can be a real challenge and I’m sure even Doctors can be flummoxed on occasion by patient presentations.

It is extremely difficult to “sort out the symptoms” when faced with multiple locations/tumour sub-types, multiple treatments causing multiple side effects, multiple side effects causing multiple symptoms, multiple comorbidities with symptoms similar to cancer syndromes and treatment side effects (and vice versa).  This disease can be very individual and what happens to one might not happen to another. Although we hope doctors generally take a holistic view when treating NET patients, I have a view that sometimes focussing in on a particular symptom might occasionally be a more effective route (the bottom-up approach – pun not intended!).  When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time!  It’s useful to know about the range of tumor markers and hormone markers – read more here.

NET Cancer Jigsaw

One thing I have learned  ……educate yourself to the best of your abilities.  This will help you to better advocate for yourself.  Improvements are possible.

Neuroendocrine Cancer is a very difficult jigsaw and you sometimes need to look very hard for the missing piece!  The ‘missing piece’ can be variable and very individual, i.e. a NET specialist, access to a particular treatment or even just more support.

What was your missing piece?

see also the Diarrhea Jigsaw

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!

 

Scanxiety – I just don’t get it!


The results will be what the results will be 11 July 2018

OPINION

The internet is full of blogs and articles about a subject which is described as ‘scanxiety‘ – the joining of the words ‘scan’ and ‘anxiety’. I also noted some authors using the words ‘scanxiety’ and ‘anxiety’ interchangeably which in my opinion is clearly wrong as by definition it is only an anxiety about scans and I guess incorporates the results of scans.  Not that we need separate names – at the end of the day, it’s just anxiety regardless of whether it is waiting on the results of a biopsy, blood test, urine test, or anything else related to an illness.  No-one goes around saying ‘blood-testxiety’ or ‘biopsyxiety’. Why scans?

‘Scanxiety’  – I just don’t get it  ……or more accurately I just don’t get overly anxious about having a scan or getting the results of a scan. Why? Because testing (scans in particular) is the one thing that’s going to keep me alive for as long as possible.  I was diagnosed 8 years ago thanks to the trigger of precautionary tests including a scan. I now live with the knowledge (and I accept this fact) that there are still bits of cancer inside me.  If I am not regularly tested, there is a chance I will eventually succumb to a serious or irreversible problem which should have been spotted earlier. Even in the event of ‘not so good news’ following a routine surveillance scan, I still see that as a positive because it means the surveillance regime has worked and an investigation can be commenced to more accurately localise and treat the problem. Even if you are in the diagnostic phase and a scan is ordered, you need to get right inside that machine and get it over and done with.  It just might save your life.

The test results will be what the test results will be and personally I try to save any worry until I know if I have anything to worry about.

Many cancer patients are under surveillance for a long time and are tested regularly. As an incurable cancer patient myself, I sometimes feel like I’m in a perpetual state of testing. I suspect if I was to let anxiety get the better of me, that would simply lead to other complications I just don’t need.  I’m not that insensitive to forget that some people do probably get anxious about actually climbing into a scanner, particularly if they are claustrophobic but that is already a recognised anxiety issue rather than so-called scanxiety.  I also suspect people will be anxious about their relatives having scans, particularly the first diagnostic one, worse when young ones are involved and I totally get that. Anxiety (as opposed to so called scanxiety) is a pretty natural reaction.  However, to control your fears, you need to face them and then try not to let your anxiety filter down to others.  I think people naturally and automatically try to do that without thinking.

‘Scanxiety’ – I just don’t get it.  As for the 51,600 search results on the internet, I just don’t get that either!

You may find my 7 tips for conquering fear useful – read here.

Thanks for reading

You may also enjoy my article “10 Questions to ask your Doctor” – click here.

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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Not all Cancer is simple

Not all Cancer is simple
Not all Cancer is simple

So Victoria Derbyshire has breast cancer and has used her ‘workplace’ as a platform to let people know she is a determined survivor. Nothing wrong with that, it’s great cancer awareness for some and inspiration for others (including me). However, reading through various newspaper follow-up articles, blogs and social media comments, I can see criticism by many for producing an over simplified message (see picture below).  Although many of us will be wishing it was so, not all cancer is simple!

victoriaTake Neuroendocrine Cancer for example. For some, this ‘silent’ cancer can take years to be finally diagnosed whilst the patient is misdiagnosed with other conditions often with debilitating symptoms. Once diagnosed, surgery (if it’s possible) is just one of a number of treatment options and it will often be multiple times.  Follow on treatments include an array of biochemical and nuclear options. If the disease is metastatic, which it frequently is due to its years of ‘silence’, then the condition normally becomes incurable and the patient will be treated for the forseeable future, very often with a reduced quality of life. Victoria might not think she had a fight but for many others, this is a particularly apt word – especially those who can never be sure the cancer has gone.

I’m not suggesting that well-known people shouldn’t make their cancer experience public – in fact I’m all for that!

Get well soon Victoria, I really mean that.

Cancer? it’s what other people get

Other people get Cancer but not me
Other people get Cancer but not me

I talk often about my diagnosis but not about an ‘incident’ which occurred almost immediately prior to being formally told.

I was well into the ‘diagnostic phase’, having had all sorts of tests including a liver biopsy.  I vividly remember thinking these tests were a ‘nuisance’, I was far too busy and I didn’t even feel ill.  In hindsight, I was fortunate to have had such a thorough bunch of physicians who diagnosed me with metastatic Neuroendocrine Cancer in about 6 weeks ‘flash to bang’.  I intentionally use a phrase associated with ‘quick’ because in the world of Neuroendocrine Cancer, 6 weeks is ‘warp speed’.

So why was I admitted to hospital during the diagnostic phase? Because I was stupid.  In fact I was double-stupid. Firstly, despite having had to undergo a liver biopsy and a referral to an Oncologist, I was in a dismissive frame of mind and was blanking out any thought that I actually had cancer.  I didn’t have time for it, I was far too busy. I’m in control!  Secondly, despite being told to take it easy after the liver biopsy, I ignored that advice because I was far too busy getting on with a normal life. After all, this is just another test hurdle and I’ll get the all clear. Other people get Cancer but not me.

On the weekend following the liver biopsy, the family came round, so I decided to do normal things like lifting one of my grandsons up (as one does) and I prepared the BBQ which involved lifting a 13.5kg cannister of gas from the garage onto the patio.  Why not? I didn’t have anything wrong with me and I didn’t even feel ill.

However, as that Saturday afternoon progressed so did the pain; and to the point that I knew I had to seek help. To cut a long story short, I was eventually admitted to hospital for what was to be diagnosed as a bleed on my liver at the biopsy site.  Oh how the mighty fall.

On the positive side, I got another bunch of tests including scans as confirmation (….a second opinion from a different hospital).  However, it was the wake-up call I needed to take it seriously. I was discharged on the Monday in time for my very first Oncology appointment with my wife Chris in attendance.  For the first time, we were officially told I had Cancer – it was much more than just a ‘scare’. For me, the denial was over, indicating that I was never actually in control of what was happening to me.

Finally some food for thought …… In hindsight, I made the serious mistake of not talking to anyone about my denial and I suspect that led to me acting stupidly.

It really is OK to talk about Cancer

p.s. I’m now slightly mellower about Cancer 🙂 You might say I’m back in control?

I bet my flush beats yours?

 

royal_flush_w
There are different types of flush!

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 this is normally (but not always) associated with metastatic disease. At this point it’s also worthwhile saying that some Neuroendocrine Cancers can be ‘silent’ (non-functional) for years before any symptoms show and it’s normally only when they metastasize, that these clinical syndromes come to life. Ironically, the manifestation of the disease with a syndrome can occasionally turn out to be a life saver albeit the cancer is normally incurable at this stage – but still treatable.

The most common type of Neuroendocrine Cancer can often present as a collection of symptoms known as Carcinoid Syndrome and the most common of these is flushing with approximately 84% frequency.  Others symptoms include (but are not limited to) diarrhoea, heart palpitations, stomach cramps and general abdominal pain/discomfort, shortness of breath, wheezing.  You can see the scope for confusion and misdiagnosis.  You may find my blog on the ‘5 E’s of Carcinoid Syndrome’ useful.

When you look at these general Carcinoid Syndrome symptoms, flushing seems to be the one that stands out as a ‘cardinal sign’ whereas many others are vague and easily confused with common/regular illnesses.  However, the flushing is reported to be different from most people’s perceptions of a ‘flush’.  The Carcinoid flush is almost always ‘dry’.  To quote my ‘amazing yellow book‘ (co-authored by Woltering, Vinik, O’Dorisio et al), “…. a good rule of thumb is if the flushing is wet (accompanied by sweating), it is due to a cause other than Carcinoid”.   Dr James Yao, another well known NETs guru also raises this distinction by stating…. “The facial flushing of carcinoid syndrome is usually a dry flushing, and not associated with sweating like other kinds of flushing. The flushing is often a symptom that others notice before patients do. They may not feel it themselves.”

Additionally, from the same source, there appears to be at least two varieties of flushing in Carcinoid Syndrome related to two different anatomical regions of the primary tumour (again a useful guide from my amazing yellow book):

What to Look For in Flushing – Distinguishing Signs and Symptoms

There are two varieties of flushing in carcinoid syndrome:
1. Midgut: The flush usually is faint pink to red in color and involves the face and upper trunk as far as the nipple line. The flush is initially provoked by alcohol and food containing tyramine (e.g., blue cheese, chocolate, aged or cured sausage, red wine). With time, the flush may occur spontaneously and without provocation. It usually lasts only a few minutes and may occur many times per day. It generally does not leave permanent discoloration.

2. Foregut tumors: The flush often is more intense, of longer duration, and purplish in hue. It is frequently followed by telangiectasia and involves not only the upper trunk but may also affect the limbs. The limbs may become acrocyanotic, and the appearance of the nose resembles that of rhinophyma. The skin of the face often thickens, and assumes leonine facies resembling that seen in leprosy and acromegaly.

Another source for flush descriptions comes from a paid article written by well known NET Endocrinologist – Kjell Öberg.

Four different types of flushing have been described in the literature.
Endocrinology: Adult and Pediatric – 7th Edition 2016.

The first type is the diffuse, erythematous flush, usually affecting the face, neck, and upper chest (i.e., normal flushing area). This flush is commonly of short duration, lasting from 1 to 5 minutes, and is related to early stages of malignant midgut NETs.

The second type is violaceous flush, which affects the same areas of the body and has roughly the same time course or sometimes lasts a little longer. These patients also may have facial telangiectasia. This flush is related to the later stages of malignant midgut NETs and is normally not felt by the patients because they have become accustomed to the flushing reaction.

The third type is prolonged flushing, lasting for hours up to several days. It sometimes involves the whole body and is associated with profuse lacrimation, swelling of the salivary glands, hypotension, and facial edema. These symptoms are usually associated with malignant bronchial carcinoids.

Finally, the fourth type of flushing reaction is bright red, patchy flushing, which is seen in patients with chronic atrophic gastritis and ECLomas (derived from enterochromaffin-like cells) of the gastric mucosa with evidence of increased histamine production.

Differential diagnoses for flushing?

The facial flushing associated with NETs should be distinguished from other causes of flushes. The carcinoid syndrome flush is provoked by spicy food, alcohol, and physical and psychological stress, and it is often worse in the morning. Patients with idiopathic flushes usually have a long history of flushing, starting rather early in life and sometimes with a family history without occurrence of a tumor. Menopausal flushes usually involve the whole body and might be related to release of calcitonin gene–related peptide (CGRP) with transient vasodilation, a so-called dry flush. Another type of menopausal symptom is the wet flush, which includes epinephrine-induced sweating. Proposed mediators of flushing in menopause are CGRP, histamine, prostaglandins, serotonin, lysyl-bradykinin, and substance P. Estrogen is known to have an impact on the production and release of different signaling substances such as noradrenaline and β-endorphin. Low estrogen levels cause lower β-endorphin activity, which in turn enhances the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which gives rise to high luteinizing hormone (LH)levels. Postmenopausal women in whom a true carcinoid syndrome is developing can tell the difference between the two types of flushes. Sometimes patients with medullary thyroid carcinoma have brief flushes provoked by alcohol. In patients with watery diarrhea, hypokalemia, achlorhydria syndrome (WDHA; vasoactive intestinal peptide [VIP]omas), a purple-red constant flushing of the whole body may develop. This flushing reaction is related to the vasodilator effects of VIP. Flushes seen in mastocytosis are related to release of histamine from mast cell granules. Mastocytosis is a rare disease of mast cell proliferation that occurs both cutaneously and systemically.

So it’s clear from our experts that the flushing symptom has many potential triggers and can be attributed to the secretion of excess hormones associated with Neuroendocrine Tumours. It’s also clear that the symptom is not just associated with carcinoid syndrome. Although many people focus on serotonin as the main culprit, there appears to be significant evidence to suggest that other hormones may be playing a bigger part with this symptom, e.g. histamine (particularly foregut), tachykinins (Substance P), bradykinins, and prostaglandins.

If you study the online forums, there are frequent questions about flushing, particularly from those looking for a diagnosis and are suspecting Carcinoid Syndrome due to a flushing symptom. However…… even flushing cannot always be attributed to a NET, particularly if it’s the only symptom being presented.

Flushing tests

This is a very useful table taken from my amazing yellow book which gives the tests required to determine the potential source of a flushing (differential diagnosis).  I strongly suspect this is not an exact science (…..is anything in medicine?) but it’s extremely useful.  Personally I would have included Rosacea :-).  The referenced article Endocrinology: Adult and Pediatric – 7th Edition 2016 by Öberg, Grosssman et al, generally agrees with this list but adds WHDA Syndrome (a pNET called VIPoma), food, drugs, ethanol and idiopathic. It also generalises Neurologic disorders (see more below).

Öberg, Grosssman, et al list the following drugs that can cause flushes:

  • Bromocriptine
  • Tamoxifen
  • Nicotinic Acid
  • Opiates
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Ketoconazole
  • Chlorpromazine
  • Cephalosporin

Öberg, Grosssman, et al list the following foods that can cause flushes:

  • Spicy food
  • Glutamate
  • Sodium nitrate
  • Sulfites
  • Hot beverages

Öberg, Grosssman, et al also list the following neurologic disorders that can cause flushes:

  • Anxiety
  • Migraine
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Spinal cord lesions
  • Brain tumors

Clearly these lists are those that can cause a flush but not everyone will experience this.  For example, when I was syndromic with flushing, I never had any issues with hot beverages.

My own experience with flushing brings back some memories and it emphasises something I say a lot – the patient has a big part to play in their own diagnosis.  Please check out this 90 second video about how I did not play my part!  I was experiencing a mild and innocuous flushing sensation for some months before I was diagnosed with metastatic Neuroendocrine Cancer.  Even though I knew it was weird and something I hadn’t experienced before, I totally ignored it.  I failed to mention it at any of my routine GP appointments or my annual asthma clinic.  I failed to mention it to my specialist who was investigating a GP/PCP diagnosis of Iron Deficiency Anemia/weight loss.  After a CT scan, the specialist appeared to be scratching his head …..  at that point he knew I had cancer but he also knew it was unusual.  I suddenly mentioned the flushing and ‘bingo’.  It was the face of a man who had just found a missing piece of a jigsaw and he correctly predicted the output from my subsequent liver biopsy.

For the next few months, I was keeping my condition private at work but it was sometimes difficult to disguise the flushing. At least  one person thought my blood pressure was going up! Fortunately, my flushing disappeared after treatment.

I’ll complete this post with an interesting summary from an online forum post in which I was participating. There was a general discussion about the severity of ‘syndrome symptoms’ including triggers and I was staggered to read that people were experiencing flushing whilst carrying out routine day-to-day tasks. I’m so happy I don’t flush when I eat one square of chocolate (that would be a complete disaster!).  The one which caught my attention was the simple act of washing hair. Whilst I initially raised my eyebrows and laughed, it did make me think back to the last flush I experienced (and touch wood it was the last …..).  Following my diagnosis, I commenced daily injections of Octreotide. These injections reduced the flushing but it didn’t eliminate it. However, after my ‘debulking’ surgery in Nov 2010, my flushing disappeared.  However, I do remember this small flush coming out of nowhere whilst I was recovering in hospital after that surgery. I was cleaning my teeth and I do vividly remember this minor task taking some effort!

I haven’t had a flush since and if this symptom comes back, I’ll know I have a new problem to contend with.

Thanks for reading

Ronny

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