Diabetes – The NET Effect


My chest infection is now settled, as too is the excitement and apprehension behind my first ever Ga68 PET – the outcome of that is still a work in progress. Earlier this year, my thyroid ‘lesion’ on watch and wait was given a ‘damping down’ with the prescription of a thyroid hormone supplement but I await a re-ignition of that small bush fire downstream.

Bubbling behind the scenes and clamoring for attention is the spiking of my blood glucose test results and I was very recently declared ‘at risk’ for diabetes One of my followers entitled a post in my group with “The hits keep coming” in reference to encountering yet another problem in the journey with Neuroendocrine Cancer. I now know how she feels, this issue is a bit of a ‘left fielder’. However, having analysed the situation and spoken to several doctors, I can now put pen to paper.

Neuroendocrine Cancer is not a household name (…… I’m working on that) but diabetes certainly is. The World Health Organisation reports that the number of adults living with diabetes has almost quadrupled since 1980 to 422 million adults. In USA, estimates from CDC stated around 10 million people diagnosed with diabetes with a further 84 million in pre-diabetes state (at risk). In UK around 3.7 million people have diabetes with about 4 times that amount ‘at risk’. It’s a growth industry (…….. but so is NETs – in the last 40 years, the incidence of NETs is rising at a faster rate than diabetes, a disease which some writers have described as an epidemic).

With those numbers, it follows that many NET patients will be diabetic before diagnosis, some will succumb to diabetes whether they have NETs or not, and some may have an increased risk of succumbing due to their treatment. Some may even be pushed into diabetes as a direct result of their NET type or treatment. It’s important to understand diabetes in order to understand why certain types of NET and certain treatments could have an involvement.

The Pancreas

For understanding of this article, it’s worth noting the pancreas has two main functions: an exocrine function that helps in digestion and an endocrine function that regulates blood sugar. I have talked about the exocrine function in relationship to Neuroendocrine Cancer at length – check out this article on Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy. In this article, I now want to cover the issues with the endocrine function and blood sugar. First a short primer on diabetes – it is necessarily brief for the purposes of this article.

 

Diabetes Primer

TypeS OF DIABETES

Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes are fairly well-known. There’s actually more than two types, but these are the most common. Type 2 is the most prevalent with around 90% of diabetes cases. When you’ve got Type 1 diabetes, you can’t make any insulin at all. If you’ve got Type 2 diabetes, the insulin you make either can’t work effectively, or you can’t produce enough of it. Additional types may come up in the subsequent discussion.

What is the problem?

What all types of diabetes have in common is that they cause people to have too much glucose (sugar) in their blood. But we all need some glucose. It’s what gives us our energy. We get glucose when our bodies break down the carbohydrates that we eat or drink. And that glucose is released into our blood. We also need a hormone called insulin. It’s made by our pancreas, and it’s insulin that allows the glucose in our blood to enter our cells and fuel our bodies.

If you don’t have diabetes, your pancreas senses when glucose has entered your bloodstream and releases the right amount of insulin, so the glucose can get into your cells. But if you have diabetes, this system doesn’t work properly. Diabetes is associated by being overweight but there isn’t a 100% correlation with that. However, when an individual becomes overweight, there is an increase in free fatty acids in the blood stream which may contribute to reduced insulin sensitivity in the tissues, leading to increased glucose levels in blood.

Symptoms and diagnosis of Diabetes

Different people develop different symptoms. In diabetes, because glucose can’t get into your cells, it begins to build up in your blood. And too much glucose in your blood causes a lot of different problems. To begin with it leads to diabetes symptoms, like having to wee a lot (particularly at night), being incredibly thirsty, and feeling very tired. You may also lose weight, get infections like thrush or suffer from blurred vision and slow healing wounds.

I see these symptoms mentioned very frequently and normally people are trying to associate them with NETs and/or the treatment for NETs.

Diabetes diagnosis is normally triggered diagnosed based on blood tests such as fasting Blood Glucose (snapshot) and/or Glycated Hemoglobin (A1C) or HbA1C.

Complications

Over a long period of time, high glucose levels in your blood can seriously damage your heart, your eyes, your feet and your kidneys. These are known as the complications of diabetes.

But with the right treatment and care, people can live a healthy life. And there’s much less risk that someone will experience these complications.

What are the direct connections with Diabetes and NETs?

It’s not surprising that diabetes is mostly associated with Neuroendocrine Tumors of the Pancreas but there are other areas of risk for other types of NETs including to those who are existing diabetics – see below.

Surgery

The main types of surgery for Neuroendocrine Tumors of the Pancreas are Distal Pancreatectomy (tail), Sub-total pancreatectomy (central/tail), Classic Whipple (pancreaticoduodenectomy – head and/or neck of pancreas), Total pancreatectomy (remove the entire pancreas) or an Enucleation (scooping out the tumour with having to remove too much surrounding tissue). From the PERT article link above (exocrine function), you can see why some people need this treatment to offset issues of reduced production of pancreatic enzymes. The same issue can develop with a reduced endocrine function leading to the development of diabetes.

NET Syndromes

The different types of functional pancreatic NETs often called syndromes in their own right due to their secretory role. One might think that Insulinomas are connected to diabetes issues but this hormonal syndrome is actually associated with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), although low blood sugar can turn out to be a complication of diabetes treatment.

A NET syndrome known as Glucagonoma (a type of functional pancreatic NET) is associated with high blood glucose levels. About 5-10% of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors are Glucagonomas, tumors that produce an inappropriate abundance of the hormone glucagon. Glucagon balances the effects of insulin by regulating the amount of sugar in your blood. If you have too much glucagon, your cells don’t store sugar and instead sugar stays in your bloodstream. Glucagonoma therefore leads to diabetes-like symptoms (amongst other symptoms). In fact Glucagonoma is sometimes called the 4D syndrome – consists of diabetes, dermatitis, deep venous thrombosis (DVT), and depression.

Another functional pancreatic NET known as Somatostatinoma is prone to developing insulin resistance. Somatostatinomas produce excessive amounts of somatostatin which interferes with the insulin/glucagon function and could therefore lead to diabetes.

Diabetes caused by cancer or cancer treatment

Worth noting that this type of diabetes is sometimes known as ‘Pancreatogenic diabetes’ and this is actually classified by the American Diabetes Association and by the World Health Organization as type 3c diabetes mellitus (T3cDM) and refers to diabetes due to impairment in pancreatic endocrine function due to acute cancer and cancer treatment (and several other conditions). The texts tend to point to cancers (and other conditions) of the pancreas rather than system wide. Prevalence data on T3cDM are scarce because of insufficient research in this area and challenges with accurate diabetes classification in clinical practice. (Authors note: Slightly confusing as many text say that type 3 diabetes is proposed for insulin resistance in the brain (diabetes associated with Alzheimer’s disease).  There’s another term for a complete removal of the entire pancreas – Pancreoprivic Diabetes

Other treatment risks

Somatostatin Analogues (e.g. Octreotide and Lanreotide) are common drugs used to control NET Syndromes and are also said to have an anti-tumor effect. They are known to inhibit several hormones including glucagon and insulin and consequently may interfere with blood glucose levels. The leaflets for both drugs clearly state this side effect with a warning that diabetics who have been prescribed the drug, should inform their doctors so that dosages can be adjusted if necessary. The side effects lists also indicates high and low blood glucose symptoms indicating it can cause both low and high blood glucose (hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia). For those who are pre-diabetic or close to pre-diabetic status, there is a possibility that the drug may push blood tests into diabetic ranges.
Afinitor (Everolimus). The patient information for Afinitor (Everolimus) clearly states Increased blood sugar and fat (cholesterol and triglycerides) levels in blood: Your health care provider should do blood tests to check your fasting blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood before you start treatment with AFINITOR and during treatment with AFINITOR”
Sutent (Sunitinib). The patient information for Sutent (Sinitinib) clearly states that low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is a potential side effect. It also advises that low blood sugar with SUTENT may be worse in patients who have diabetes and take anti-diabetic medicines. Your healthcare provider should check your blood sugar levels regularly during treatment with SUTENT and may need to adjust the dose of your anti-diabetic medicines.

In rare cases, certain NETs may produce too much Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), a substance that causes the adrenal glands to make too much cortisol and other hormones. This is often associated with Cushing’s syndrome. Cortisol increases our blood pressure and blood glucose levels with can lead to diabetes as a result of untreated Cushing’s syndrome.

Summary

I think it’s sensible for all NET patients, particularly those with involvement as per above and who are showing the signs of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, to be checked regularly for blood glucose and if necessary HbA1c. Many patient information leaflets for the common NET treatments also indicate this is necessary. Always tell your prescribing doctors if you are a diabetic or about any history of low or high blood glucose before treatment for NETs.

My brush with Diabetes (as at Jan 2019)

My blood glucose levels started to climb slightly in 2016 but HbA1c remained normal. However, an HbA1c test in early 2018 put me into pre-diabetic range (44 mmoL/moL). I explained some of the above article to my GP who is corresponding with a diabetes expert at secondary care – the expert suggested that I need to be monitored carefully as weight loss is not necessarily the best response. I have kept my NET team up to date.

At the time of updating, two separate and sequential HbA1c tests (3 month interval) came back normal at 36 mmoL/moL.  I’m pragmatic enough to know that I do not need to lose weight as one of the aims of reducing my blood glucose and HbA1c levels (something emphasised by the above mentioned diabetes specialist).

I even got on my bike to do a little bit more exercise just in case!

At this point, I cannot yet say if this is the beginning of progressive Type II diabetes or if my medication is causing these spikes in my blood glucose and HbA1c. Judging by 2 x normal HbA1c, looks like the somatostatin analogue (Lanreotide in my case) may caused a spike to a pre-diabetes score.  I will keep you posted.

Summary – if you are noticing these symptoms, get your blood sugar checked (with acknowledgement to Dr Pantalone from Cleveland Clinic)

1. You’re making more trips to the bathroom

Having to go to the bathroom more than normal, particularly at night, is a sign that your blood sugar might be out of whack.

Dr. Pantalone says one of his patients came in for a diagnosis after a family member noticed that he was using the bathroom during each commercial break when they watched TV.

2. You’re getting frequent urinary or yeast infections

When your blood sugar is high and your kidneys can’t filter it well enough, sugar ends up in the urine. More sugar in a warm, moist environment can cause urinary tract and yeast infections, especially in women.

3. You’re losing weight without trying

If you have diabetes, your body isn’t able to use glucose (sugar) as effectively for its energy. Instead, your body will start burning fat stores, and you may experience unexpected weight loss.

4. Your vision is getting worse

High sugar levels can distort the lenses in your eyes, worsening your vision. Changes in your eyeglass prescription or vision are sometimes a sign of diabetes.

5. You’re feeling fatigued or exhausted

Several underlying causes of fatigue may relate to diabetes/high sugar levels, including dehydration (from frequent urination, which can disrupt sleep) and kidney damage.

This feeling of exhaustion is often persistent and can interfere with your daily activities, says Dr Pantalone.

6. You’re noticing skin discoloration

Something that Dr. Pantalone often sees in patients before a diabetes diagnosis is dark skin in the neck folds and over the knuckles. Insulin resistance can cause this condition, known as acanthosis nigricans.

 

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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Steve Jobs – the most famous Neuroendocrine Cancer Ambassador we NEVER had

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

Steve Jobs died 5 Oct 2011.  RIP Steve, you certainly made a difference to the world of technology and that is still being felt today.  I have a number of google alerts setup and every day the emails arrive in my inbox. The longest email is always the Steve Jobs one, i.e. Steve Jobs is written about more than Neuroendocrine Cancer and other connected subjects. That’s interesting because Neuroendocrine Cancer is the type Steve had, not Pancreatic as is frequently reported.

There are huge differences between Pancreatic Cancer and Neuroendocrine Cancer with a pancreatic primary – click here to read more. 

pancreatic vs neuroendocrine

I’ve mentioned Steve Jobs a few times previously, mainly in my blog The Human Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer. I wrote that blog when I was frustrated about the constant misreporting of Neuroendocrine Cancer as other types of cancer. Others included Nick Robinson (see blog The Devil is in the Detail) and Wilko Johnson (The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson).  I’ve also suggested in my blog ‘Every Day is NET Cancer Day’ that we need high-profile patient Ambassadors and despite his death, Steve Jobs would have been quite a catch, had he been willing. Curiously, the same thing is happening with Dag Kittlaus (Siri creator) who was diagnosed with a pNET last year.  To add insult to injury, the 2018 death of Aretha Franklin is gong the same way.

A lot has been written about Steve’s cancer experience and much of it is full of ‘what ifs’. However, I’d like to focus on the facts that are known and we can be almost certain about. That said, the precise detail that we (as NET patients) might want, is probably only to be found in Steve Jobs’s medical documents. Many people say that Steve Jobs had a right to personal privacy and I agree, nothing I put here isn’t already in the public domain.

Diagnosis

How was it found?  In 2003, Steve was having a CT scan to examine his kidneys and ureter, as he had developed recurrent kidney stones beginning in the late 1990s. A suspicious lesion was spotted on his pancreas. To cut a long story short, he eventually had more specialist scans and then a biopsy which diagnosed a type of Neuroendocrine Tumour.  There are many mentions of Insulinoma, a pNET which is reported to have a 10% malignancy rate (ISI Book – Woltering et al). It isn’t clear whether Steve had any presentational symptoms of an Insulinoma at this point (i.e. hypoglycemia).  There is also some chatter online about his tumour being a Glucagonoma (another type of pNET).

Initial Treatment

Steve initially tried alternative medicine before having surgery 9 months after diagnosis. There are reports of his medical team urging surgery earlier and his biographer stated that Steve had later regretted this delay. One of his Doctors is reported to have said “Steve was a very thoughtful person. In deciding whether or not to have major surgery, and when, he spent a few months consulting with a number of physicians and scientists worldwide as well as his team of superb physicians. It was his decision to do this”.  He is reported to have gone on to have a ‘Whipple’ type operation in 2004.  It was only then, that his condition was made public.  During that operation, 3 lesions were reported on his liver.

Ongoing Treatment and Surveillance

Most NET patients enter this phase after their initial treatment, it’s also the period where you learn about the cancer and how best to live with it.  There’s not much written about Jobs’ illness between his surgery and his liver transplant but my research uncovered a useful timeline from Bloomberg and other sources:

June 12, 2005: Jobs talks about his fight with cancer during a commencement speech at Stanford University. He says he was diagnosed about a year earlier and that doctors told him he wouldn’t live longer than six months. The cancer turned out to be a form that was treatable with surgery, “and I’m fine now,” he says. Source Bloomberg.  {Author’s note:  an indication he had been told, or his doctors knew, it was a Neuroendocrine Tumor}

January 24, 2006:  Walt Disney chief executive Bob Iger knew early on that Steve Jobs’s cancer had returned and kept it a secret before it became public knowledge, a new biography of Apple’s late chief executive reveals. The day the deal was officially announced, Mr Iger said he was at Pixar’s headquarters for the ceremony when Jobs asked to go for a private walk. On a secluded part of the Californian campus Jobs put his arm around Mr Iger’s shoulder and revealed his cancer was back. “Frankly, they tell me I’ve got a 50-50 chance of living five years,” the Disney CEO quoted Jobs as saying.

2007:  Not much out there except that he was busy launching what might be regarded as Apple’s most successful and iconic product ever – the iPhone.

June 9, 2008: Jobs, while introducing the iPhone 3G at Apple’s developers’ conference, appears thinner and frail. The company blames a “common bug.”

July 21, 2008: Responding to concerns about Jobs’s appearance, Apple says he has no plans to leave the company and that his health is a private matter. Investors aren’t reassured, and the shares fall 10 percent.

July 23, 2008: The New York Times reports that Jobs has been telling associates and Apple’s board he is cancer-free. Jobs had a surgical procedure earlier in the year to address a problem that contributed to his weight loss, the newspaper reports, citing unnamed people close to the executive. The shares climb 2.6 percent.

July 26, 2008: New York Times columnist Joe Nocera writes that he spoke two days earlier on the phone with Jobs, who said his health problems weren’t life-threatening. Jobs declines to go on the record about the nature of his ailment.

Sept. 9, 2008: Jobs, introducing new iPod media players at an event in San Francisco, still looks thin. “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” Jobs jokes. Munster says that while the CEO’s appearance is unchanged since June, “Just the fact that Steve Jobs was up there was a positive.”

Oct. 3, 2008: A posting on CNN’s citizen journalist Web site, called iReport.com, says Jobs has been rushed to the hospital after a “major heart attack.” The shares fall 5.4pc. The stock rebounds after Apple says the report is false.

Dec. 16, 2008: Apple says that Jobs won’t be giving his usual speech at the Macworld conference, renewing concerns about his health. Jobs had used the forum to introduce new products for 11 straight years.

Jan. 5, 2009: Jobs says he is suffering from a hormone imbalance, causing him to lose weight. Jobs vows to remain CEO during treatment. “The remedy for this nutritional problem is relatively simple and straightforward,” Jobs says in an open letter.

Jan. 14, 2009: Jobs gives up day-to-day operations to Cook until June, saying his health problems are more complex than originally thought. Jobs says he will remain involved in major strategic decisions. “I look forward to seeing all of you this summer,” he says in a letter to employees.

By this stage, his cancer is already starting to take its toll on how he looks.

The disease takes its toll over the years

Liver Transplant 2009

It is common knowledge that Jobs had a liver transplant in 2009 in Tennessee (he was on the list in California and Tennessee).  In between his Whipple and then, he appears to have lived (and worked) with his disease and it’s consequences. His issues appear to have been exacerbated by his excessive vegan diet/fads and the effects of the Whipple surgery (many of you will be aware of these effects). For example, he would spend weeks eating the same thing and then suddenly change his mind and stop eating it. He’d also go on fasts. His condition immediately prior to the liver transplant was said to be ‘poor’ and losing more weight (he had been noticeably thinner for some time).

Did Steve Jobs get ‘experimental’ PRRT?

Jobs took a second medical absence for roughly six months in 2009. It wasn’t until June 20th, two months after the fact, that the Wall Street Journal uncovered the fact that Jobs had undergone a secret liver transplant at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. However, during that absence, Fortune reported Jobs also took an unpublicized flight to Switzerland to undergo an ‘unusual radiological treatment’ (PRRT) at the University of Basel for neuroendocrine cancer, according to Jerry York, the Apple director who died in March 2010.

Post-Liver Transplant

In 2010, Jobs started to feel sick again. He would lose his appetite and begin to feel pains throughout his body. His doctors would do tests, detect nothing, and reassure him that he still seemed clear.  In early November 2010, he was in pain, stopped eating and had to be fed intravenously by a nurse who came to his house. The doctors found no sign of more tumours, and they assumed that this was just another of his periodic cycles of fighting infections and digestive maladies.

Heres’ a great bunch of TV interviews (something Jobs didn’t do very often).  “The last few years have reminded me that life is fragile”.  Click here (worth watching the whole 10 minutes). His final TV appearance was in June 2011 to the Cupertino City Council about the acquisition of land for their new campus.  Worth watching some of it: Click here.

The End

In early 2011, doctors detected the recurrence that was causing these symptoms. Ultimately, he developed liver, bone, and other metastases.  He had a further extended leave of absence from his job before stepping down as Apple CEO in Aug,  Steve Jobs eventually died 5 Oct 2011.

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

References

Notwithstanding the Pancreatic Cancer vs Neuroendocrine Cancer issue, I carried out my research mainly using two articles of the many you can find out there:

  1.  “And one more thing” about Steve Jobs’ battle with cancer
    This is a long article and totally fascinating.  Some of the evidence is presented using extracts from Walter Isaacson’s book ‘Steve Jobs’
  2. A Tumor Is No Clearer in Hindsight.  This article comes to similar conclusions than the one above but it’s shorter and easier to read. It’s from the New York times and was written after the dust settled on Jobs’ death (i.e. when more facts were available). There is also input to this article from NET specialists Dr Wolin and Dr Libutti.

  3. Apple chief Steve Jobs: Health timeline since 2003.  This article is from a UK National Newspaper (The Telegraph) but via US Business Publication Bloomberg.

Personal Summary

“A tumor is no clearer in hindsight” is a good summary on the basis that I would have liked much more detail!  During my research, I found many mentions of Insulin as stated above but only one or two mentioning Glucagon, a hormone associated with another pNET type – Glucagonoma. However, looking at this tumor type in the ISI Book (Woltering et al) and the Jobs diagnostic and treatment story, I have some doubts whether this was the precise tumor type. I have some other searches in progress hoping to find something concrete.

Thinking Differently There is no doubt that Steve Jobs was an amazing and very interesting character.  You just can’t see Apple being the Apple it is today without his intervention.  He was famous for being ‘unconventional’ and ‘thinking different’ and I get that element of his character.  I just can’t help thinking that perhaps he should have been more ‘conventional’ with this thinking and approach to treating his cancer. However, we just don’t know what advice he was receiving and what advice he accepted or rejected.  As for the ‘Pancreatic Cancer’ thing – I’ve said this before, I believe patients only say or interpret what their doctors say to them in regards cancer type.

“The most famous patient ambassador we never had”.  I don’t mean any disrespect by that, I’m just emphasising that we need so much more awareness of our cancer and a high-profile patient could do so much to help in this area. If he was so inclined, Steve would have been a fantastic advocate for Neuroendocrine Cancer and there’s an area where perhaps thinking different might be the way ahead. However, I have a suspicion that very famous people don’t really want to talk about their illness and Steve Jobs might even perceive that as a weakness.

And one more thing …….  you may also find this article useful.  It’s titled “And one more thing”