Immunotherapy: Studies with Neuroendocrine Neoplasms

CAR T-cell therapy, SEM

Headline in April 2019:

Update from 2019 AACR Annual Meeting

A combination of two common immunotherapy drugs shrinks rare, aggressive neuroendocrine tumors, according to new research results presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2019, held March 29-April 3 in Atlanta“.  See below under section: – Nivolumab (Opdiva) and Ipilimumab (Yervoy) in Treating Patients With High  Grade Neuroendocrine Carcinoma

Immunotherapy for Neuroendocrine Neoplasms

There’s a lot of Immunotherapy stuff out there! However, I also wanted to break it down and perhaps see if I can pick up the what, when, why, where and how in regards to Neuroendocrine Cancer. It’s really difficult, not least because the picture is not clear and there is no general roadmap printed, let alone one for Neuroendocrine disease. Immunotherapy for NETs was discussed at ENETS 2017 in Barcelona. The presentation that sticks out was one given by Dr Matthew Kulke, a well-known NET Specialist in Boston. My reaction to the presentation was one of ‘expectation management’ and caution i.e. it’s too soon to know if we will get any success and when we will get it. He also hinted that it’s more likely that any success will first be seen in poorly differentiated high-grade Neuroendocrine Carcinoma (NEC). Dr Jonathan Strosberg also said similar in a post here. In fact, from below you will see that grade 3 poorly differentiated is where the bulk of trial activity is (…..but read on, there is some action around plain old well differentiated NETs).  You will also see that there are disappointing results so far with single agent Keytruda.

Retain hope but just be cautious with some of the hype surrounding Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is exciting, but we also need to be aware of the risks of taking the brakes off the immune system. We have seen and heard more and more stories about people with grim cancer diagnoses who became cancer-free after treatment with immunotherapy. This offers hope to those with cancer, but we need to be cautious when discussing immunotherapy. This treatment method is still new, and the cancer community is still learning about how it affects the body. An unfettered immune system may end up attacking healthy, functioning parts of a person’s body, causing unpredictable side effects that may be life-threatening EVEN if not treated early.

For those considering a trial, I think it’s worth spending some time reading this article from Cancer.NET – Doctor Approved Patient Information from the American Society of Clinical Oncology – “What You Need to Know About Immunotherapy Side Effects“.

For Neuroendocrine Neoplasms, only Neuroendocrine Carcinoma of the skin (Merkel Cell Carcinoma) and Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) has an approved drug (see below). Anything else is currently an experimental scenario (clinical trial). Before launching into what is out for with an interest in NET and NEC, it’s worth pointing out that Immunotherapy is not for everyone, does not work for everyone, and has side effects for everyone.

Let’s start with Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)?

‘Pembrolizumab’ is more famously known as ‘Keytruda‘. This drug crops up everywhere and it has connections to many different cancers. Before I talk about this trial called PLANET, it’s very useful to take a quick look at the history of Keytruda which was only really made famous after former US President Jimmy Carter was treated with it for metastatic melanoma. There was a lot of media hype surrounding what made his treatment successful as he was also given radiation for his brain tumours and his large liver tumour was removed by surgery. However, putting the hype and conjecture to one side, Keytruda’s CV is pretty impressive. Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) is currently approved to treat certain scenarios in Hodgkin lymphoma, Melanoma, Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, Urothelial carcinoma, Microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) related cancers (a very interesting development as it’s the US FDA’s very first approval on a tissue/site agnostic basis).

However, despite this excelent record, it’s worth also noting that NANETS 2018 reported limited use of Keytruda (see below) as a single agent to treat high grade Neuroendocrine Neoplasms.

Other approvals are anticipated.

So what about Neuroendocrine Neoplasms?

Approvals:

FDA granted accelerated approval to Avelumab (BAVENCIO) for the treatment of patients 12 years and older with metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). MCC is a Neuroendocrine Carcinoma of the skin. Avelumab is a programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) blocking human IgG1 lambda monoclonal antibody. This is the first FDA-approved product to treat this type of cancer – CLICK HERE for more information.

In Aug 2018, the FDA granted Nivolumab (OPDIVO) accelerated approval for third-line treatment of metastatic small cell lung cancer (a type of Neuroendocrine Carcinoma. Read more – click here.

In Dec 2018, US FDA approves pembrolizumab for adult and pediatric patients with recurrent locally advanced or metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). Click here.

On March 18, 2019, the FDA approved Atezolizumab (TECENTRIQ) in combination with carboplatin and etoposide, for the first-line treatment of adult patients with extensive-stage small cell lung cancer (ES-SCLC). Click here.

Clinical Trials:

I found the following trials for high-grade NEC:

  • currently recruiting Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) for the Treatment of Recurrent High Grade Neuroendocrine Carcinoma (Pembro NEC)
  • currently recruiting A Study of Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) in Patients With Neuroendocrine Tumors
  • currently recruiting Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) – based Therapy in Previously Treated High Grade Neuroendocrine Carcinomas
  • This trial is interesting. Nivolumab (Opdiva) and Ipilimumab (Yervoy) in Treating Patients With High Grade Neuroendocrine Carcinoma It’s a multiple cancer setup and includes several of the less common NET/NEC types including ‘Lung Carcinoid’, ‘Anal NEC’, ‘Gastic NEC’, ‘Pancreatic NEC’ ‘Esophageal NEC. Interesting because this is the drug combo that NEC patient Danielle Tindle has moved onto after Keytruda didn’t really work in the medium to long-term (see the Danielle Tindle story below). Looking at the list in the trial document, I’m thinking they might mean high-grade Lung Neuroendocrine rather than ‘carcinoid’. I could be wrong. It’s currently recruiting.

    Update from 2019 AACR Annual Meeting.

    The immune checkpoint inhibitor combination of nivolumab (Opdivo) and ipilimumab (Yervoy) induced a greater than 40% response rate and was well tolerated in patients with high-grade neuroendocrine carcinoma, according to findings from the phase II DART trial presented at the 2019 AACR Annual Meeting.

    “DART is the first NCI-funded rare tumor immunotherapy basket study which we think is unique in its design scale,” lead author Sandip Patel MD, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, said in a press briefing at the meeting. “We’re studying over 37 rare tumor types [using the] combination of ipilimumab plus nivolumab. The neuroendocrine cohort, the nonpancreatic cohort, had promising signs of benefit—[particularly] in patients with high-grade neuroendocrine carcinoma—independent to primary site,” added Patel.

    See clinical trial document NCT02834013
    See announcement of trial data – click here

  • I also have some evidence of the use of Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) by an Australian high-grade thymus patient – I posted something here (Danielle Tindle)
  • PDR001 (Spartalizamab) – see below.

UPDATE from NANETS 2018. “A preliminary trial of checkpoint blockade for neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) produced little evidence of activity, according to data reported here. Only one of 21 patients with high-grade NETs responded to treatment with pembrolizumab (Keytruda). Three others had stable disease. The trial had an objective response threshold of 5% as the definition of clinically interesting, as reported at the North American Neuroendocrine Tumor Society annual symposium. “Pembrolizumab, though generally well tolerated, showed limited activity as a single agent in high-grade neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) in this study,” Arvind Dasari, MD, of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and colleagues concluded.” More info.

Update from Gastrointestinal Tumor symposium 2019.  “Disappointing results for single agent pembrolizumab (Keytruda) in well differentiated NET. Response Rate 3.7%. Not a viable option.  Listen to Dr Jonathan Strosberg describe the poor results. Click here.

SPARTALIZUMAB (PDR001)

This is an interesting trial sponsored by Novartis (of Octreotide fame). PDR001 (anti-PD-1) is an investigational immunotherapy being developed by Novartis to treat both solid tumors and lymphomas (cancers of the blood).  It is currently being trialled on many cancers including Neuroendocrine Neoplasms both well and poorly differentiated.  Click here: Clinical Trial SPARTALIZUMAB – Immunotherapy for Neuroendocrine Neoplasms (PDR001)

NET Research Foundation

Please also see the wonderful work done by NET Research Foundation who are using their funds to explore the use of Immunotherapy in NETs – check out their update by clicking here.

But what about just plain old well differentiated low or moderate grade NETs?

I found the following:

Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) in combination with Lanreotide

According to the trial documentation, it’s for patients with non-resectable, recurrent, or metastatic well or moderately (sic) differentiated gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (GEP-NETs). i.e. most of us. It is recruiting. You can read about the PLANET trial by clicking here. Make sure you fully check the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Please note the incorrect reference to ‘moderately differentiated’ – this is no longer used in the grading classification for Neuroendocrine Neoplasms.

Study of Pembrolizumab in Participants With Advanced Solid Tumors (MK-3475-028/KEYNOTE-28) – NCT03054806 and another called ‘A Clinical Trial of Pembrolizumab (MK-3475) Evaluating Predictive Biomarkers in Subjects With Advanced Solid Tumors’ (KEYNOTE 158) NCT02628067

From Gastrointestinal Tumor symposium 2019.  “Disappointing results for single agent pembrolizumab in Well Differentiated NET. Response Rate 3.7%. Not a viable optionListen to Dr Jonathan Strosberg describe the poor results. Click here

Study for the Evaluation of Pembrorolizumab (MK-3475) in Patients with Rare Tumors (Experimental: Paraganglioma-Pheochromocytoma Group)

It is not known if this part of the trial is affected by the results above in Keynote-28. This study is recruiting at MD Andersen Houston Texas. Read more here.

PDR001 (Spartalizamab) -a Novartis drug – read about this trial click here.

Atezolizumab and Bevacizumab in Solid Tumors

In 2016, US FDA approved Atezolizumab (TECENTRIQ) for the treatment of patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Bevacizumab (also known as AVISTAN) is a well known drug already used to treat many cancers. Avastin is not actually Immunotherapy but is a tumor-starving (anti-angiogenic) therapy, i.e. its purpose is to prevent the growth of new blood vessels …. ergo this is a combo treatment using an Immunotherapy drug and an anti-angiogenic drug.

Criteria:

  • Well differentiated Neuroendocrine tumors, Grade 1 or grade 2 according to reviewing pathologist
  • Progressive disease over the preceding 12 months
  • Any number of prior therapies
  • Patients using a somatostatin analogue for symptom control must be on stable doses for 56 days prior to enrolment.

According to the trial documenation, there are two ‘baskets’ of types: Pancreatic NET (pNET) and “extrapancreatic” (i.e. beyond or not in the pancreas) including typical or atypical Lung NETs. Merkel Cell Carcinoma (a type of Neuroendocrine Carcinoma of the skin) is also included in the trial. You can read about this trial by clicking here. Make sure you fully check the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Again, within the trial documentation, please note the incorrect reference to ‘moderately differentiated’ – this is no longer used in the grading classification for Neuroendocrine Neoplasms.

By the way, what exactly does Immunotherapy do?

For those still wondering what cancer immunotherapy actually is, this is the most basic description I could find!

Immunotherapy – Hype or Hope?

I mentioned above that there was a lot of hype surrounding Keytruda and other immunotherapy treatments. You may therefore enjoy this CNN article about the hype and hope aspect, it was given considerable sharing at ASCO17 – read the article by clicking here

If you’re on an Immunotherapy trial not listed here, please let me now so I can update the post. Thanks in advance.

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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25 Life Lessons From a Two-Time Cancer Survivor


25-life-lessons-morro-bay

Sometimes, a blog post comes along and it just resonates!  I got chatting with the author who has given me permission to post it here.  Shari Berman is a two-time cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age 25, days after returning from her honeymoon and a second time with breast cancer 8 years later. I posted her full CV below.

Her post “25 Life Lessons From a Two-Time Cancer Survivor” is a fantastic summary of a positive approach to life, despite a cancer diagnosis (or in Shari’s case, two). I’ve seen some similar quotes before but Shari has collated them into one very powerful list.  I’m not suggesting they all apply to everyone but perhaps even a ‘pick n mix’ approach would be useful.  For example, I couldn’t do number 8 – they make me sneeze! (sorry Shari!)

The first 10 are here, you can see the others by linking below:

1. Life is short. Don’t wait for the perfect moment to DO or SAY something important to you.
2. Death is not failure. It is part of life and the more we accept that fact the more we can live intentionally and without as much fear.
3. A simple act of kindness can make someone’s day and leave a lasting impression.
4. You have the ability to make an impact. Leave your mark. Share your experience, your knowledge with others.
5. “Hope” is powerful.
6. If you don’t know what to say to someone in crisis, try saying “I don’t know what to say. But I want you to know I am thinking of you.”
7. You are stronger than you think. Trust me, you are.
8. Life is better with a dog
9. Trust your gut. Intuition is powerful.
10. It is important to take a “time-out”. Walking clears your head.

Read the remainder here, you won’t be disappointed.  CLICK HERE to continue

Read Shari’s CV here:

shari-berman

Shari graduated from Cornell University and worked as a Human Resources Manager in the financial services industry for 15 years. After losing her mother to lung cancer she decided to spend her time advocating for patients and lending her perspective and expertise as patient, long-term survivor, caregiver and business professional.

Shari is a former co-chair of the Dana Farber Adult Patient Family Advisory Council where she effectively led an effort to restructure the Council and strengthen its role within the institution. She also served on Dana Farber’s quality committees and is currently a member of the Quality and Patient Safety Committee of the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine.

Shari has spoken on behalf of Dana Farber at many fund-raising events and presentations on survivorship and patient care. Her talks have focused on a variety of topics including her personal experience with cancer, survivorship issues, patient centered care and how to develop and sustain an effective Patient and Family Advisory Council. Shari has also been asked to consult on a variety of projects with organizations such as the National Academies of Medicine, (formally Institute of Medicine), American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) and Livestrong.

You may also enjoy this post from Shari – I Had Cancer. Now What?

Thanks for reading

Ronny

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

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

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Your Money or Your Life

danielle tindle 2

As I have a 2 year old post about Danielle, I wanted to preface it with this message.

It is with great sadness that I let you know Danielle Tindle passed away at the end of August 2017 after a prolonged battle with Neuroendocrine Carcinoma. She had been fighting cancer in one form or another for 12 years and became passionate in campaigning for more attention for young cancer patients.  I’ve been following her story for almost 2 years and she has really inspired me.  The title of this article is based on the title of a TV programme about her and her campaign to gain access to new drugs.  I had chatted with Danielle online about some of the story below and I hope I’ve interpreted it correctly.   RIP Danielle.

[ORIGINAL POST]

I first wrote about Danielle Tindle in Oct 2015 as I was really inspired by her story. Some of you will know that I have a lot of time for inspiring patient stories such as this one.  There is no better form of advocacy and awareness than a human being talking about it in front of a camera or microphone.  I truly believe these should be at the forefront of international and national campaigns.

Danielle has appeared many times in the national newspapers and TV in Australia. A young person who had gone through gruelling treatments – several chemos and stem cell treatment for get rid of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. One of her chemo treatments resulted in permanent loss of hair (severe Alopecia) – listen to her very inspirational video by clicking here. She talks about this aspect of her treatment plus many other things.  A quote I love is her saying “to be treated like I’m unwell makes me very angry”.

Just when she thought her life was back and near the end of a PhD, they found a Neuroendocrine Tumour in her neck near the larynx which was inoperable and chemo was found to be ineffective. Despite this, she battled on. Her father, a scientist, had coincidentally been involved in the research of an experimental immunotherapy drug, which was at the time being used for Melanoma. Pembrozilumab (KEYTRUDA) has since been approved for a number of cancers including Melanoma, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, metastatic nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC); and very recently for advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma.

Danielle’s story had also highlighted a growing problem which appears to be causing concern in many countries – the price of drugs which is then compounded by health system processes. How crazy was this …….  Danielle initially wanted to take Pembrozilumab (KEYTRUDA) (made famous by former US President Jimmy Carter) on an experimental basis (……it is not approved for any type of Neuroendocrine Cancer). It would only cost AUS$6 AUS if she was a Melanoma patient but because she has Neuroendocrine Cancer, it cost AUS$5000 a shot for the treatment she needs.  You can view the 30-minute ABC ‘Australian Story’ by clicking here

Danielle has confirmed to me that she did eventually try Pembrozilumab (KEYTRUDA) but she was then moved onto a combination of Nivolumab (OPDIVO) and Ipilumumab (YERVOY), also immunotherapy drugs.  In fact, the Nivolumab and Ipipumumab did initially make progress with some tumour size reduction – click here But …….

Another rollercoaster……

Unfortunately, from an update gleaned from her ‘gofundme‘ site (Apr 2017), it would appear progress with Nivolumab and Ipipumumab halted, things started to grow and the treatment was stopped.  Danielle was then put into palliative care for pain relief. She has had a number of emergency surgeries, including a feeding tube directly to her stomach to eat, and a tracheostomy (a tube that goes into your neck so that you can breathe).

Then a new breakthrough when her oncologist advised that the treatment protocol for immunotherapy had changed and that there may be benefit in continuing to treat her.  However, the financial constraints still apply. Despite, Danielle having paid $123,000 for the immunotherapy so far, the drug company has AGAIN denied compassionate access to the treatment. 

When I wrote the original blog, I attached a 5-minute video which I personally found very inspiring.  She talks eloquently, confidently and she maintains her composure emotionally. She was a brave lady and I’m not sure I could have contained my emotions for the full 5 minutes of the video clip. You can view the video clip here: Click here to view.  (Please note this video was recorded before the immunotherapy treatment).

RIP Danielle

Thanks for reading

Ronny

Neuroendocrine Cancer – not as rare as you think

Background

Although initially considered rare tumours up until 10 years ago, the most recent data indicates the incidence of NETs has increased exponentially over the last 4 decades and they are as common as Myeloma, Testicular Cancer, and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In terms of prevalence, NETs represent the second most common gastrointestinal malignancy after colorectal cancer. Consequently, many experts are now claiming NETs are not rare (see below).  A recent study published on 5 Dec 2018 reports that even if you isolate Small Intestine NETs in the USA population, the incident rate is 9/100,000. Contrast this against the US incident rate as at 2012 of 7/100,000 for all NETs.  The rare threshold in Europe is 5/100,000 and below.

And on 7th January 2019, an internationally known NET Specialist described NETs as very common.

strosberg not rare
In fact, the graph of the SEER database figures for NETs in both 2004 and 2012 indicates the rate of incidence increase is faster than any other cancer on the planet, particularly attributed to lung, small intestine, and rectal NETs.  The World Health Organisation’s revised classification of Neuroendocrine Neoplasms in 2010, abandoned the division between benign and malignant NET as all NETs have malignant potential and should be graded accordingly.  The 2004 SEER data compiled did not take into account what might have been considered to be benign NETs.

However, the most recent USA study up to 2012 has confirmed the incidence beyond 2004 has continued to rise (and rise, and rise, and rise) and this is covered below in the section entitled “Meanwhile in USA”. One of the principal authors of both database studies has now gone public and said NETs are no longer rare. 

Incidence and Prevalence

Before I continue, it’s important to understand the difference between incidence and prevalence.  In the crudest of terms, incidence is the number of new cases of a disease being diagnosed (normally aligned to a specific quota of the population per year, generally 100,000). Prevalence normally indicates an amount of people living at any one time with a disease. It’s also important to note that different nations or groups of nations classify ‘rare’ in different ways – not really helpful when looking at worldwide statistics.

So why the increase?  I suspect the reasons include (but are not limited to), more awareness (population and medical staff), better detection techniques and probably more accurate reporting systems, at least in USA, Norway, Canada and now in the UK i.e. a mixture of underdiagnoses and misreporting.  The Canadian study is important as it also noted the proportion of metastases at presentation decreased from 29% to 13%. This is the first study that suggests an increased incidence of NETs may be due to an increased (and earlier?) detection. This has the knock on effect of increasing prevalence as most NET Cancer patients will normally live for longer periods.  Add to this the plethora of better treatments available today, you have a highly prevalent cancer. Most of that is good news.

However, their true incidence may be 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. In Australia, one study claimed that 0.05% of all autopsies found a Pheochromocytoma or Paraganglioma.  A very interesting slideshow from a well respected NET expert claimed there are 200,000 undiagnosed NET patients in USA. Slide below:  You may also wish to check out my article “The Invisible NET Patient Population” where this is explored further.

dana-farber-200000

US SEER 2004 – The Trigger and Turning Point

In the largest study of its kind up to that point, well-known Neuroendocrine Cancer expert James C. Yao researched the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database. His team studied 35,825 cases of Neuroendocrine Cancers in the United States covering data between 1973 and 2004. The report concluded that in 2004 there were 5.25 new cases of NETs per 100,000 people, compared with 1.09 per 100,000 in 1973 [1]. This is in contrast to the overall incidence of malignancies, which has remained relatively constant since 1992 (see the yellow line on the graph). The study also pointed out that due to increased survival durations over time, NETs are more prevalent than previously reported. If you analyse the NET data for 1994 (10 years before the end of the study period), you will see an incidence rate of approx 3.25/100,000. In 2004, the incidence rate had risen to 5.25/100,000. Although not an exact science, it does suggest the potential incidence rate at 2014 (10 years after the study period) might possibly have climbed well beyond 6/100,000 and even further if the same rate of increase displayed by the study had continued (spoiler alert – it actually came out as 7/100,000 see below under ‘Meanwhile in USA’). This study also confirmed a prevalence of 103,000 NET patients as at 2004. As this is regarded as the most accurate NET statistic ever produced, it is interesting to note that was at a time when the prognostics for NET were not as good as they are today indicating there must be a very significant increase if extrapolated to the current time. Moreover, this was prior to the WHO 2010 reclassification of NETs so more diagnoses will be counted today that were not counted in 2004. See below to see the significance of this figure (see section ‘Do the math’).

The 2004 data was an astonishing set of statistics – particularly as they were based on 12 year old data. However, there is now new data up to 2012 that overtakes the above-mentioned groundbreaking study and confirmed the incidence is now even higher.  See section entitled “Meanwhile in USA …….” 

incidence
SEER study 2004 – NETs

Meanwhile in Norway ……

Data from the Norwegian Registry of Cancer showed a similar incidence of Neuroendocrine Cancers with a 72% increase between 2000 and 2004 compared with 1993–1997 [2]. Also in Norway, an article published in 2015 entitled “Epidemiology and classification of gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine neoplasms using current coding criteria” indicated a high crude incidence of GEP-NEN, at 5·83 per 100 000 inhabitants over the period 2003-2013 (adjusting to 7.64 for Europe in 2013 – see diagram below extracted from cited article 2a).  It was also noted together with the statement “….a significant increasing trend over time”. [2a] Citation [2b]
extrapolation europe

Meanwhile in Canada …….

CNETs have highlighted an article published in the magazine ‘Cancer’, February 15, 2015, showing that the incidence of Neuroendocrine Tumours has markedly increased in Canada over the course of 15 years (1994-2009). The results showed that the incidence of Neuroendocrine Tumours has increased from 2.48 to 5.86 per 100,000 per year. [3] [4]

simron singh nets not rare

Meanwhile in UK …….

The latest figures from Public Health England (PHE) indicate the incidence of NETs has risen to almost 9/100,000 (i.e. not rare) using the latest International Classification of Diseases for Oncology (ICD-O) methodology version 3 – ICD-O-3. Even that figure is understated because it does not include Lung Neuroendocrine Carcinomas (i.e. SCLC and LCNEC). As at 31 Mar 2016, the age-standardised incidence rate for NETs in England (excluding small and large cell neuroendocrine carcinomas, SCLC and LCNEC respectively) was 8.84, 8.37 in males and 9.30 in females – rising from 3.9 in 2001.  These figures are from the NET Patient Foundation and were issued as a result of a NPF and PHE (NCRAS) partnership project which has been compiling statistics on the incidence, prevalence and survival of NET Patients in England using English cancer registry data. They also have an aim to also access the rest of UK cancer registry data to get UK wide figures.

That means a new NET diagnosis every 2 hours. You can see a summary of the report   NEW:  Public Health England release new incidence data for Neuroendocrine Cancer

A slide from the recent UKINETS 2017 conference indicating an agreement from UK and Ireland NET Specialists.

IMG_20171204_214918
as presented at UKINETS 2017

Meanwhile in New Zealand …….

as presented by Unicorn Foundation NZ on 11 Mar 2017

Meanwhile in USA …….

The latest evidence of its rise is contained in the largest ever study ever conducted. It is based on data up to 2012 so it’s worth noting that this data is now 5 years old (3 years for the project prevalence figure), so even these figures may still be conservative.  The document, which was published in 2017 can be found here: Click here.  A short summary follows:

In this population-based study that included 64 971 patients with neuroendocrine tumors, age-adjusted incidence rates increased 6.4-fold between 1973 and 2012, mostly for early stage tumors.  Survival for all neuroendocrine tumors has improved, especially for distant stage gastrointestinal and pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.

Of the 64 971 cases of NETs, 34 233 (52.7%) were women. The age-adjusted incidence rate increased 6.4-fold from 1973 (1.09 per 100 000) to 2012 (6.98 per 100 000). This increase occurred across all sites, stages, and grades. In the SEER 18 registry grouping (2000-2012), the highest incidence rates were 1.49 per 100 000 in the lung, 3.56 per 100 000 in gastroenteropancreatic sites, and 0.84 per 100 000 in NETs with an unknown primary site. The estimated 20-year limited-duration prevalence of NETs in the United States on January 1, 2014, was 171 321

Conclusion: The incidence and prevalence of NETs have continued to rise in the United States, owing to the increased diagnosis of early-stage disease and possibly stage migration. The survival of patients with NETs has improved, and this improvement has been greater for those with distant gastrointestinal NETs and, in particular, distant pancreatic NETs.

Combine that with a revised annual incidence rate of 23,000 and the very well known fact that NETs is a highly prevalent disease, it must be mathematically impossible for the figure not to be above the USA rare threshold of 200,000 in 2017.  As you can see from the graph below, the incidence rate for NETs continues to outstrip the incidence rate for all malignant neoplasms (another word for tumour).  Amazingly, the report authors even state “…….. it is likely that we have underestimated their true incidence and prevalence”.

not rare yao netrf

incidence 2012 jama
NET Cancer diagnoses continues to outstrip all other cancer diagnoses

The NET Research Foundation published an amazing infographic which summarises the output of the SEER 2012 study (although it does omit the prevalence figure ‘as at’ date).  See it below and you can read the accompanying text here.

dasari-infographic-2
Graphic from the NET Research Foundation – https://netrf.org/study-shows-rising-rates-of-net-incidence-prevalence-and-survival/

Let’s do the Math

Neuroendocrine Cancer is not only the fastest growing cancer in incidence terms but as a group of cancers, given the mounting epidemiological evidence, it can no longer be rare as a grouping of cancers.  Neuroendocrine disease IS NOT RARE.

For example, if you roughly extrapolate the US SEER data graph above to 2017 and recalculate the prevalence rate based on 23 000 per year from the 2014 figure of 171 321.  Unfortunately, some people will have passed, but it’s well documented as a highly prevalent cancer and therefore more people live. The prevalence of neuroendocrine tumors in USA was higher than the combined estimated prevalence of esophageal cancer (n = 36,857), gastric adenocarcinoma (n = 79,843) and pancreatic adenocarcinoma (n = 49,620) in 2013. In fact, one of the conclusions of the 2012 SEER report is that we are living longer with NETs. This is in line with many other cancers due to improved diagnostic and treatment regimes.  Cleary more work still needs doing.

Dr Kunz has done the math
hendifar not rare
Dr Hendifar has done the math
not rare yao netrf
Dr Yao has done the math

simron singh nets not rare
Dr Singh has done the math

strosberg not rare
Dr Strosberg has done the math

The Invisible NET Patient Population

The heading of this section is my name for those who have not yet been diagnosed with NETs but are walking around having been either misdiagnosed, diagnosed with another cancer in the same part of the anatomy, living and putting up with the symptoms whilst the tumours grow.  To add to this part of the underdiagnoses of NETs 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 had 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

Go figure

Whilst reporting has been improved, it is most likely still not 100% accurate. Therefore, even the figures above may be understated due to an incorrect cause of death reporting and incorrect diagnosis/recording of the wrong cancers (e.g. pNETs recorded as Pancreatic Cancer, Lung NETs recorded as Lung Cancer, etc).  This is certainly still happening in UK and I suspect in most other countries. Add to that the regular reports of Neuroendocrine Tumours being found during autopsies and you have the potential for an even further unrecorded increase had these been found prior to death. In fact, according to SEER 2012, the true incidence and prevalence is most likely underestimated. In fact here is a statement straight from the horse’s mouth:

SEER 2012 Underestimated
more math

The issue is also complicated by the method used in USA for naming a disease ‘rare’. Rather than use incidence rates, the USA uses the number of people living with the disease at any one time (i.e. essentially the prevalence). This is currently 200,000 as a threshold – anything below that is considered rare.  It seems mathematically impossible for NETs to be less than 200,000 given the data provided above.

Eric Liu Not Rare

When I first started researching NETs back in 2010, the US figure (which varies from source to source) was around 125-150,000.  Why are people quoting figures less than this in 2017 when the 2014 figure has now been confirmed above? There also seems to be a selective omission of the new US incidence rate of 7/100,000.

You will also see that Dana Farber is estimating more than 200,000 people are as yet undiagnosed.  Even if that were 50% accurate, it would put the current prevalence figure in US over 300,000.

Let’s cut to the chase – NETs are not rare, they are just less common

Are we shouting loud enough about this?  I don’t think so.  ‘Rare’ is very frequently used within the NET community almost to the point of being a status symbol. Based on these figures, this looks like an outdated approach along with its associated icons.  The evidence above is so compelling that saying the group of cancers officially called Neuroendocrine Neoplasms is rare is starting to sound like fake news.

“A neoplasm on the rise.  More prevalent than you may think.  Incidence increased dramatically during past 3 decades” (Novartis)

“it’s less rare than we used to think. It’s more malignant than we previously thought” (Dr Richard Warner)

“…..it is one of the most rapidly increasing cancers in the U.S. There has been a 500-percent increase in the last 30 years” (Dr Edward Wolin)

“Estimated more than 200,000 undiagnosed cases in the US” (Dana Farber)

“I actually think NETs are not a rare cancer” (Dr James Yao)

“NETS will no longer be rare” (UKINETS 2017 one of the opening slides)

“NETs are no longer rare” (Dr Andrew Hendifar)

“…..when you think of prevalence, NETs are actually quite common” (Dr Jonathan Strosberg)

“One study showed that the number of people diagnosed has risen 50% over the last decade and unfortunately, I worry that is an underestimate” (Dr Eric Liu)

“Neuroendocrine Cancer – NETs are not rare, just less common.  We need a new paradigm” (Ronny Allan since 2015)

You may also wish to check out my article “The Invisible NET Patient Population” where this is explored further.