Welcome to Ronny Allan’s Community newsletter for November 2017. A very strong beginning of the month due to massive support for my Halloween themed but very serious and hard-hitting post “Neuroendocrine Tumors – no treats, just tricks“. If you’ve not seen it or commented on it, check it out here on the Facebook site (currently 724 shares). I suspect the number of shares will never be beaten (there were 652 within 36 hours) and as far as I know perhaps this is now the most shared NET awareness post ever on social media. The support for this single post was so phenomenal; it actually eclipsed my entire NET Cancer Day effort on 10 Nov! I am so grateful to those who made that happen ♥
That said, I was actually pretty quiet on NET Cancer Day. You have to remember that my contribution is mostly social media, that is my strong point and that is where I focus. It’s a great platform in the ‘awareness battlespace’ for many medical conditions. Moreover, it is where we will find new audiences. More and more doctors of all specialities are joining social media on a daily basis – we need them to find out about NETs.
I was quiet for much of November due to a wee bit of exhaustion, coupled with a slight depression that another year of ‘same old’ messages was taking place. Despite this, I still managed to dominate the social media #LetsTalkAboutNETs campaign.
If English is not your first language, please check out my language gadget on each page and post of my blog site:
I caught this news in my social media NET
(did you see what I did there?)
Pheochromocytoma is something I’ve written about before but this video from NET Cancer Day (courtesy of the PheoPara Alliance) is a classic example of how I believe we should do awareness – it’s about real things happening to real people rather than gimmicky BAWSA stuff. If you have not seen this short video, check it out here.
New Treatments on the horizon – short video from Dr Matthew Kulke with my additional comment – check it our here
RIP Sunny Susan Anderson, patient legend – check out this link
Blog Site Activity
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.
November didn’t seem like a busier month in terms of blogging despite several personal challenges and external projects on the go. Striking a balance remains difficult, I’m keen to support and advocate but as a patient, I also need my own time. I still managed to break records in November, mainly due follow on support for my Halloween themed post on 31st Oct. Thank you all so much for the support.
Please join my 2018 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 I cannot accept telephone or video calls on a one to one basis (please just message me and I will respond). 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 November 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 doing this!
Cure Magazine. I’ve been accepted as a ‘Cure Today’ contributor which means my articles will get a wider distribution than they do now. Cure Magazine has a readership of 1 million. Click hereto read more. In October, I was featured in Cure Magazine twice:
Twitter. I’m ‘extremely’ active on twitter and I find a lot of research stuff there, in addition to new audiences. 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 are people regularly retweeting my stuff who do not have a personal interest in NETs. In Nov, I tweeted 250 times on my personal account which led to 152,000 views. I was mentioned 160 times by other tweeters, 3322 people looked at my profile and I gained 48 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 387 subscribers – up 13 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. This is the biggest cancer support organisation in the UK and I’m intent on developing relationships with various departments in this fantastic organisation. They published an article recognising NET Cancer Day (might be the first time they ever did) – check it out here:
On 16 November, I spoke for around 45 minutes at an Ipsen sponsored NET Nurse event in Birmingham. Tough gig! Post to follow when I have the official photos.
Writing and other types of Engagement (external)
Watch this space as I’m working on quite a few projects concurrently.
Social Media and Stats
Blog Milestone. In November, I accelerated past 430,000 views! Thank you all so much ♥ Keep sharing! On track for half a million by end of February 2018.
Facebook Milestone. I would love to achieve 6000 followers by the end of 2017 but that is now an almost impossible challenge without your direct involvement! 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 (go to these pages and click on ‘Like’)
These are fallback sites to counter the Facebook algorithm whereby you may not see all my posts on the main site (click on the links to see the pages)
I’m expanding into Instagram to see how that goes. I’ve amassed over 230 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)
Facebook – 5466. 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).
Most blog views in one month: 25912 in October 2017.
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 November. Onwards and upwards!
I quite like the Facebook memory thing. This morning I got a reminder of a post I made from 7 years ago whilst I was in hospital recovering from my 9 Nov surgery. It had taken 12 days for me to feel strong enough to venture onto social media with a simple message “I’m feeling perkier”. For those not familiar with English localisms, it just means lively, spirited, bright, sunny, cheerful, animated, upbeat, buoyant, bubbly, cheery, bouncy, genial, jaunty, chirpy, sprightly, vivacious, in fine fettle, full of beans, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I guess I met some of these descriptors most of the time! I had gotten through the worst and the light at the end of the tunnel was now a faint glimmer.
I’ve recently had a ton of ‘7 years ago cancerversaries’ and there’s still a few to go! I’m currently being reminded of an issue that started just after my initial treatment and by coincidence (perhaps?) the commencement of my Lanreotide (Somatuline Autogel). Itching! However, for me, it’s mainly the right leg below the knee (go figure!). Much less frequently on my arms and sides. I know many people have the same issue but no-one ever seems to find out why – I guess it’s that Neuroendocrine jigsaw thing again?
Initially, I put the issue down to Lanreotide, as this is mentioned in the side effect list on the drug instructions. The initial connection was made because it seemed to be happening immediately after my monthly ‘dart’. A really annoying itch mostly around my ankles and which had to be scratched! An application of a general emollient cream for a few days seemed to do the trick and after a week it was gone (until the next injection …..). However, after a few years, I sensed the issue was drifting away from the injection cycle and adopting a different and more random pattern. I’m also suspicious of a nutritional connection and checking my article Nutrition for NETs -Vitamins and Mineral Challenges, I can see Vit B3 (Niacin) and Vit E are mentioned in regards skin issues. I’d be confused if this was an issue today as I now take plenty supplements to offset GI malabsorption. However, I probably wasn’t taking sufficient between surgery and 2013 as I lacked the knowledge to do so at the time. So nutritional deficiency remains a possibility or at least an added complication. The most recent outbreak has unusually gone on for the last 4 weeks.
I also seem to have had an eczema type issue in my right ear and mild rosacea for more than 7 years (pre diagnosis). As you can imagine my ‘inner detective’ is working overtime! One thing is clear – this itchy leg issue has plagued me for 7 years.
I know that many people have real issues with rashes and skin itching, I’ve seen this so many times with some people describing it as severe. Clearly when this is the case, a doctor’s intervention is generally required. I’ve seen the following connections to NETs and skin issues:
Glucagonoma – a type of functioning pNET can often come with dermatological issues.
Of course there is a Neuroendocrine Carcinoma of the skin known as Merkel Cell Carcinoma – more of a skin lesion effect than regular dermatological issues.
Edit: 2019. Winter in UK has made my itching seem worse, perhaps the cold weather plays a factor. Maybe I just currently have what many people have – dry flaky skin and the onset of winter probably isn’t helping?
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 “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! The difference to day is that I have adapted to my new weight and look fit and healthy.
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 (including any type of NET using long term somatostatin analogues). 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.
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.
Suggested reading for putting weight back after surgery
An excellent reference document produced by Royal Free Hospital, authored by Tara Whyand and distributed via the NET Patient Foundation – hints and tips for different types of NET by anatomy: click here
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.
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.
Edit: 28 Nov 2018. I’m back at 10st after increasing my dosage of Creon.
Edit: 10 Jan 2019. I’m back at 10st 3lbs, my approximate weight before the chest infection. It’s taken 7 months and the recent acceleration coincides with Creon dose increase.
Edit 7th Feb 2019. Changed from Creon to Nutrizym.
Edit: 17 Mar 2019. It appears my trouser waist size is back to 32″. Is the use of Pancreatic Enzymes making me eat more, or getting more nutrients through, or making me eat food which makes me put on weight?
For those wishing to see the output from an online discussion with Tara Whyand on the subject of ‘Weight’ issues for NET patients – please see this link inside my closed Facebook group.
In my article ‘Ever wonder what caused your NET’, I concluded that currently, the only known scientifically explained causes for NETs were hereditary/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 hereditary 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. Hereditary 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 functional hormone syndrome) and so the genetic condition if there is one, may not be known at this point.
How will I know if I am affected?
Some people do worry about this, often because of what they find on the internet including inside patient forums. I suspect some people already know via family connections and as an example (there are many), I guess if you have 2 tumors found in (say) parathyroid and pancreas, it should at least raise a suspicion for MEN1 and be investigated.
Many people say how do I know, how do I check and this is obviously a delicate subject. Of course, your first port of call should be your NET specialist if you suspect or know of any connection.
Thus why I was interested in a paper published in Springer Link – 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:
When should genetic testing be performed in patients with neuroendocrine tumours?
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 who also agreed they should have included the pituitary.
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 thought, 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. Please also note they are finding new genetic links all the time so there could be some omissions of recently discovered genes but the article remains good enough as a primer on the subject. It’s broken down into 4 distinct tumor groupings:
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:
2. From Dana Farber (Kulke, Chan):
“Estimated more than 200,000 undiagnosed cases in the US” – this slide here:
…. 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. Please help these people by sharing this article – you never know who it will reach – Diagnosing the Undiagnosed.
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. “
The Mayo Clinic experience shows that in up to 50% of cases of pheochromocytoma, the correct diagnosis is made at autopsy (ergo the incidence rate could be double what is published).
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. DOI: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-17-3378. 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:
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.
Immunotherapy. Merkel Cell Carcinoma is already benefiting from an FDA approved drug with another pending. Check out this link.
Awareness. Giovanni from LACNETS generates awareness in her local area – I have no doubt that awareness saves lives. Read here.
Lanreotide. Ipsen announces approval in Japan for treating NETs. Click here.
NET Cancer Blog Activity
June was a slower month in ‘new’ blogging terms mainly due to holiday but even during this holiday, I’m being invited to external projects and a continuing flow of private messages. I’m still suffering with back pain but patiently waiting to see a physiotherapist. However, despite a low month for brand new blogs, I still managed for the first time to break through the monthly blog view figure of 20000. ……..Thank you all so much, a lot of this was down to your support for some scheduled posts whilst I was on holiday ♥
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. The nominations period ends on 7th July and I’ll let you know how you can vote for me. A vote for me is a vote for Neuroendocrine Cancer awareness.
BREAKING NEWS (…ish). 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. You can see my profile here: http://www.curetoday.com/community/contributors
New (or significantly updated) Blogs Published
Due to the vagaries of Facebook inner workings, some of these may not have even shown on your Facebook timeline. So, ICYMI …….here’s a summary with links:
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 239 subscribers – up 25% 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 hereto read more.
On 7 July, I’ve been invited to speak for 10 minutes at the PLANETS patient conferencein Southampton. This is special for me as it’s where my major treatments took place and some of my medical team will be there.
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)
On 12 July, I’ve been invited to speak to Ipsen (UK). Still setting up this short notice meeting, details to follow in a separate post. Additionally, I was interviewed by a health reporter and separately by a health consultant. I’m not at liberty to provide details yet but if anything is published in the public domain, I will of course publish it on my social media channels.
Social Media and Stats
Blog Milestone. In June, I tipped over 310000 views! Thank you all so much ♥ Keep sharing! On track for 400000 by end of the year.
Facebook Milestone. I’m aiming for 5000 followers by year-end and this is on track. 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.
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
Facebook – 4806. 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’)
Where did June 2017 Blog views come from? – Top 10 countries: Germany on the up (wunderbar). And thanks to USA!
For interest. the 10 Ten Facebook followers by Country – Germany still sneaking up (wunderbar wieder). Interestingly Canada always reads more than Australia despite fewer followers.
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 June. Onwards and upwards!
Thanks for reading
Hey, I’m also active on Facebook. Like my page for even more news.
“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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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 option. Listen 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.
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.
What is Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy (PRRT)?
For those who are still not sure what it’s all about. This is a non-surgical treatment which is normally administered intravenously. It’s based on the use of somatostatin receptors to attract a ‘radiopeptide’. The radiopeptide is a combination of a somatostatin analogue and a radioactive material. As we already know, somatostatin analogues (i.e. Lanreotide/Octreotide) are a NET cell targeting drug, so when combined with radioactivity, it binds with the NET cells and delivers a high dose of targeted radiation to the cancer while preserving healthy tissue. In general, patients tend to receive up to 4 sessions spaced apart by at least 2 months.
PRRT will not work on all NETs and not everyone will suited to this treatment. In general, for this treatment to be more successful, you must have somatostatin receptors in your tumors. Success rates are not 100% – it should not be considered a cure or ‘magic bullet’. However, the results are said to be pretty good. The NETTER-1 trial data which has led to formal approval in Europe, USA and other areas, can be found here.
LATEST ON EXPANDED NETTER-1 TRIAL DATA. “Novartis has announced presentation of a new analysis of Lutathera (lutetium Lu 177 dotatate) NETTER-1 data at the 2018 European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) congress examining the impact of Lutathera treatment on patients with low, medium or high liver tumor burden. The data show that Lutathera treatment results in significant improvement in progression free survival (PFS) regardless of the extent of baseline liver tumor burden (LTB), elevated alkaline phosphatase (ALP) liver enzyme or presence of large (>30mm diameter) lesion in patients with progressive midgut neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) compared to octreotide LAR alone.”
Read the latest news on the NETTER-2 trial here. This is designed to look at the benefits of using PRRT on Grade 2 and Grade 3 patients as a first line treatment.
Understanding the terminology is half the battle in understanding the latest developments. I’ve included Ga-68 PET scans within this section (or in more general terms Somatostatin Receptor PET (SSTR PET)) as the term ‘Theranostics‘ is becoming a commonly used theme. Theranostics is a joining of the words diagnostics and therapy.
LUTATHERA is the radionuclide ‘mix’ for use in Peptide Radio Therapy Treatment (PRRT). You may also see this drug called ‘Lutetium’ or ‘Lu-177 dotatate’, or just ‘Lu-177’ on its own. Yttrium 90 (Y-90) is a radionuclide also used in PRRT.
NETSPOT (USA) or SOMAKIT TOC (Europe) is not PRRT but it is the commercial names for the radiopeptide used in Gallium 68 (Ga-68) PET diagnostic scans.
Together they form a ‘theranostic pair’. Theranostics is apt as together (NETSPOT / SOMAKIT TOC and Lutathera), both target NETs expressing the same somatostatin receptor, with Lutathera intended to kill tumor cells by emitting a different kind of low-energy, short-range radiation than that of the diagnostic version.
Moreover, thanks to the theranostic approach that nuclear medicine allows, Novartis/AAA’s NETSPOT/SomaKit TOC products will be able to determine when Lutathera is the appropriate treatment.
Of course, this therapy has been in use in Europe and some other places for some time but to be honest, they have been on a limited scale and never formally approved by national drug agencies. Despite its extensive use, the EU approval in 2017 was actually the very first approval of PRRT anywhere in the world. For example, in UK, it was used for some time for those in need but was removed from routine availability through a ‘slush fund’ formally known as the Cancer Drugs Fund – to cut a long story short, the funding source was cut off, although there are still ways of obtaining the treatment pending formal acceptance by the NHS (certain criteria apply).
In the meantime, I constantly see stories of patients travelling to Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Great Britain and others; mostly at their own cost. However, it does indicate one thing, there is a huge unmet need in that many patients do not have access to the best treatments in their own country. I see this daily through many private messages.
What about Grade 3 (High Grade) Neoplasms?
The main treatment for Grade 3 is chemotherapy, particularly poorly differentiated. PRRT tends to work better with efficient somatostatin receptors (i.e. somatostatin receptor-positive tumors). The European approval wording only covers Grades 1 and 2. The US FDA approval indicates “somatostatin receptor-positive tumors”. It’s also worth noting that with Grade 3, working somatostatin receptors are more likely to exist in Grade 3 well differentiated NETs, particularly in the lower Ki-67 readings (less than 55%). However, there’s an interesting study from Australia which might be useful to read – check out the abstracthere (note the full version is not available free).
2019 Updated data for Grade 3 Neuroendocrine Neoplasms:
“Compared to studies evaluating the efficacy of chemotherapy for NEN patients with a Ki-67 index less than or equal to 55 percent, PRRT has a longer overall survival rate–22 months versus 14 months,” the researchers pointed out. “These results suggest that PRRT, rather than chemotherapy, may be a superior first-line therapeutic option in selected patients with a high level of SSTR expression and a Ki-67 index of less than or equal to 55%.” Read more here.
Merkel Cell Carcinoma. Although not indicated for this type of Neuroendocrine Neoplasm, there is evidence to suggest that this skin Neuroendocrine Carcinoma does express somatostatin receptors. Read more here.
What about Pheochromoctyoma/Paraganglioma?
This article discusses the efficacy of PRRT in Pheo/para – click here. There’s actually still a trial for Pheochromocytoma/Paraganglioma (Pheo/Para). It is known that Pheo/Para can have somatostatin receptor tumors so a useful trial. The aim of the trial is to assess the safety and tolerability. You can read about the trial here.
Where can I get PRRT?
The aim of this section is to update on a regional basis in order to inform an international community of followers and readers.
I wanted a place to review what is happening globally given my following. In many countries, however, I’m dependent on feedback from patients in those countries. Please note this is not intended to be a 100% complete breakdown on everything about PRRT or PRRT centres – it’s a summary. It should be clear from below but please bear that in mind when reading.
This section of this article will cover each region, indicating where PRRT can be obtained (as far as I know). It is not designed to indicate whether this is through public or private facilities (this will depend to too many factors beyond the reach of this article). Please note this is not intended to be a 100% complete breakdown on every single PRRT centre – it’s a summary. This actually should be clear from below but please bear that in mind when reading.
On 29 August 2018. National Institute for Health Care Excellence (NICE) England has formally published that Lutetium (177Lu) oxodotreotide, within its marketing authorisation, is an option for treating unresectable or metastatic, progressive, well-differentiated (grade 1 or grade 2), somatostatin receptor-positive gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) in adults. CLICK HERE to read the approval. Currently available in the following NHS locations:
London – at least 2 locations – Royal Free, Guys and St Thomas
Liverpool – The Royal
Manchester – The Christie
Sheffield – Weston Park
Bristol – Bristol Oncology Centre
Newcastle – Freeman Hospital
Coventry – University Hospital
Anecdotal mention of Leicester but waiting to hear confirmation.
On 9 July 2018. The Scottish Medicines Consortium (NICE equivalent) has approved lutetium 177Lu (Lutathera) for patients in NHS Scotland. Good news for Scotland once their hospitals have the capability to deliver. Scottish patients would then not need to travel to England for the NHS Scotland funded treatment. Read more here.
It is funded in Wales and Northern Ireland but is currently administered in England with inter NHS budget transfers.
On 7th Feb 2019, Health Canada approved Lutathera™ (lutetium (177Lu) oxodotreotide) for the treatment of unresectable (not removable by surgery) or metastatic, well-differentiated, somatostatin receptor-positive (expressing the somatostatin receptor) gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (GEP-NETs) in adults with progressive disease. The treatment was previously available on a trial basis. Read more here.
Site update to follow but the following trial locations may be up and running first:
Cross Cancer Institute, Edmonton
PRRT was approved in USA on 26 Jan 2018.The approval is for the treatment of somatostatin receptor positive gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (GEP-NETs), including foregut, midgut, and hindgut neuroendocrine tumors in adults. CLICK HERE.
The extended access program (trial) is no longer offered but these locations should be ahead of the game in terms of provision, notwithstanding insurance and provision of sufficient nuclear material.
In the meantime, known USA sites offering routine “live site” insurance based PRRT treatment are as follows – please note information has been gleaned from US patients due to no other consolidated source of this information being readily available. It’s possible some patients got mixed up between trial locations and live locations so let me know of any omissions or additions/corrections – thanks in advance.
DRAFT – NOT YET COMPLETE – (as at 16 May 2019)
Due in Service?
Dr Boris Naraev
UCSF Medical Center Mission Bay San Francisco
California – Antioch
Kaiser Permanente Antioch Medical Center
Cedars Sinai Medical Center LA
Stanford Medical Center
Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center
Hoag Hospital Newport Beach
Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center
City of Hope LA
Yale New Haven Medical Center
Salner, Andrew, MD
Rocky Mountain Cancer Center Denver
Dr Eric Liu
University of Colorado UC Health Denver
University of Miami
Winter Park, Florida Radiation Oncology Orlando
David Diamond MD
CCTA Newnan, Atlanta
Queen’s Medical Center
Dr. Marc Coel
Mountain States Tumor Institute at St. Luke’s Hospital, Boise
Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, Idaho Falls, Idaho
Rush University Chicago
The University of Chicago Medicine
Xavier M. Keutgen, MD
Loyola University Medical Center Maywood
Indiana University Health
University of Iowa
Dr T O’Dorisio
University of Kansas Medical Center Fairway
University of Kentucky, Markey Cancer Center
John Hopkins Baltimore
Dana Farber Boston
Massachusetts General Hospital
Detroit – Karmanos Cancer Center
Dr. Thor Halfdanarson
University of Minnesota Health
Sara Canon Cancer Center Kansas City
Siteman Cancer Center St. Louis/Barnes Jewish Hospital St. Louis
Dr Samuel Mehr
Nebraska Cancer Specialists Omaha
Dr Samuel Mehr
Lenox Hill NYC
Stony Brook University Cancer Center Long Island
Nurse Navigator, Patty Zirpoli, RN
Roswell Park Buffalo
The James, Columbus
Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU)
Fox Chase Philadelphia
Dr Paul Engstrom
Rhode Island Hospital Providence
Dr Paul Engstrom
Sanford in Sioux Falls
MD Anderson Houston
Excel Diagnostics Houston
CHI St Lukes Houston
BAMC San Antonio(VA) Houston
Huntsman Cancer Institute, Salt Lake City
University of Vermont Medical Center
Jay Kikut, MD, Director of Nuclear Medicine and PET
Carilion Clinic Roanoke
Virginia Mason Seattle
Dr. Hagen Kennecke
VMedStar Georgetown University Hospital
VMU Cancer Institute Morgantown
Shalu Pahuja, M.D
UW Health Madison, Carbone Cancer Center
Noelle K. LoConte, MD Specialty: Medical Oncology Primary Location: UW Carbone Cancer Center (608) 265-1700 (800) 323-8942
Europe (excluding UK which is listed above)
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) “market authorisation” received a positive indication on 20th July followed by EC approval on 29 Sep 2017. The positive indication reads “Lutathera is indicated for the treatment of unresectable or metastatic, progressive, well differentiated (G1 and G2), somatostatin receptor positive gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (GEP NETs) in adults”. Of Course, the decision to fund the drug will be with national approval organisations. Whilst I’m sure there are many more, these well-known centres have been making PRRT available for some years (but please note there are others):
Denmark – ‘Rigshospitalet’ since 2009. They have treated around 250 patients- and given 800 treatments.Netherlands – Rotterdam Treatment Centre – click here
Slovenia –Ljubljana, University medical Centre Ljubljana
Sweden – Department of Endocrine Oncology Uppsala University Hospital – click here
Switzerland – University Hospital Basel, Radiology & Nuclear Medicine Clinic – click here
I’d be interested to hear from countries in Europe with their full list of centres or a link to it.
Australia seems to be ahead of the game or that is what I sense when I read output from there. There’s a good section on the Australian effort – click here.
These guys have had to fight to get some progress on the provision of PRRT. Currently New Zealanders have to go to Melbourne Australia for treatment – almost 50 New Zealanders with NETs are currently raising tens of thousands of dollars to pay for treatment in Australia because the life-prolonging treatment isn’t available locally. But this could change in 2018. Unicorn Foundation New Zealand announced that Pharmac, the New Zealand government agency that decides which pharmaceuticals, have said that PRRT will be funded for patients with medium priority for the treatment of unresectable or metastatic, well-differentiated NETs (irrespective of primary site) that express somatostatin receptors.
Lebanon – The American Hospital of Beirut – Dr Ali Shamseddine “We have started using Lu-177 here in Lebanon. So far, we have treated 3 patients, with good response. The operational cost is much less than in Europe”.
India – Mahatma Gandhi Cancer Hospital, Visakhapatnam. Recently started radionuclide therapy. Although only currently available privately, some patients have been sponsored by the companies that they work for. Point of contact is Dr. K. Raghava Kashyap. I’ve been assured by CNETS India that many locations have PRRT capability – contact them direct please. Also – TATA Memorial Hospital Mumbai (waiting time is long, but cost is low: $200) and there are private clinics in Pune (cost is $1500) and Bengaluru (cost is around $6000). (Info from Russian patient group).
Kuwait – Kuwait Cancer Control Center (KCCC) – read article here.
Cabozantinib is an oral drug which works by blocking the growth of new blood vessels that feed a tumour. In addition to blocking the formation of new blood cells in tumours, Cabozantinib also blocks pathways that may be responsible for allowing cancers cells to become resistant to other “anti-angiogenic” drugs. It is a type of drug called a growth blocker. Cabozantinib has been studied or is already in research studies as a possible treatment for various types of cancer, including prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, brain cancer, thyroid cancer, lung cancer, and kidney cancer. During my research, I found that it has a connection to Medullary Thyroid Cancer (MTC) which is a type of Neuroendocrine Cancer, frequently associated with Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN). Cabozantinib, under the brand name of ‘Cometriq’ was approved by the FDA in 2012 for use in MTC. Read more about Cometriq here. It’s also been approved by the FDA for advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC) (branded as Cabometyx). I also discovered that there is an exclusive licensing Agreement with the manufacturers (Elelixis) and Ipsen (of Lanreotide fame) to commercialize and develop Cabozantinib in regions outside the United States, Canada and Japan
Growth blockers are a type of biological therapy and include tyrosine kinase inhibitors, proteasome inhibitors, mTOR inhibitors, PI3K inhibitors, histone deacetylase inhibitors and hedgehog pathway blockers. Cabozantinib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI). They block chemical messengers (enzymes) called tyrosine kinases. Tyrosine kinases help to send growth signals in cells so blocking them stop the cell growing and dividing. Some TKIs can block more than one tyrosine kinase and these are known as multi-TKIs.
So Capozantinib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor and is therefore a biological therapy and growth blocker just like Everolimus (Afinitor) and Sunitinib (Sutent) – some texts describe thelattero two as chemotherapy but this is just not accurate.
Very technical process but in the simplest of terms, Cabozantinib is designed to disrupt the actions of VEGF (a growth factor) and MET (a growth factor receptor) which promote spread of cancerous cells through the growth of new blood vessels. Whilst we are on this subject, please note Everolimus (Afinitor) is an mTOR inhibitor and Sunitinib (Sutent) is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor. Many people think these drugs are a type of chemo – that is incorrect, these are targeted biological therapies. See more on this by clicking here.
What is the current trial status of Capozantinib?
A Phase III trial is now recruiting entitled “Cabozantinib S-malate in Treating Patients With Neuroendocrine Tumors Previously Treated With Everolimus That Are Locally Advanced, Metastatic, or Cannot Be Removed by Surgery”.
The trial has 172 locations across the US (see link below). The primary study (final data) is scheduled Jan 1st 2021.
A funded piece of research by the NET Research Foundation – check it out here – looks like they are trying to figure out what patients might benefit from Cabozantinib using biomarker data to predict response.
BOSTON — Cabozantinib (Cabometyx) may benefit patients with malignant pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas, according to results of a phase II trial presented here.
Patients receiving cabozantinib (Cometriq) treatment experienced notable tumor shrinkage in the lymph nodes, liver, and lung metastases, according to Camilo Jimenez, MD, of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and colleagues.
Additionally, progression-free survival significantly increased after treated to 12.1 months (range 0.9-28) compared with just 3.2 months prior to treatment, they reported at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) annual meeting.
Cabozantinib treatment was also tied to an improvement in blood pressure and performance status, as well as remission of diabetes among these patients.
“Malignant pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas are frequently characterized by an excessive secretion of catecholamines. [Patients] have a large tumor burden and they have a decreased overall survival,” explained Jimenez. “Tumors are frequently very vascular and frequently associated with bone metastases. In fact, up to 20% of patients who have malignancy of pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas may have predominant bone metastases.”
He added that “an interesting aspect of this tumor is that C-MET receptor mutation have been found in occasional patients with malignant pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas.”
Cabozantinib is an anti-angiogenic tyrosine kinase inhibitor, which also targets RET, MET, and AXL. It is approved for metastatic medullary thyroid cancer, and was more recently approved for first-line treatment of advanced renal cell carcinoma.
“MET pathway is also involved in the development of bone metastases. In fact, cabozantinib is a very effective medications for patients who have bone metastases in the context of cancer of different origins,” Jimenez said.
In order to be eligible for the trial, patients with confirmed pheochromocytoma or paraganglioma had to be ineligible for curative surgery, have ≥3 months life expectancy, no risk for perforation or fistula, and adequate organ functioning. Prior to cabozantinib initiation, patients could not receive chemotherapy or biologic agents within 6 weeks, radiation within 4 weeks, or MIBG within 6 months.
Following histological confirmation of disease progression >1 year according to RECIST 1.1, the trial included 14 patients with measurable disease and eight patients with predominant/exclusive bone metastases. Fifteen patients subsequently enrolled into the trial, six of whom had germline mutations of the SDHB gene.
All participants were all started at an initial daily dose of 60 mg of cabozantinib, which was subsequently reduced down to between 40 to 20 mg due to toxicity in 13 patients based on tolerance.
The majority of these patients with measurable disease experienced some level of disease response. Six patients reported a partial response, defined as over a 30% reduction, while three patients achieved moderate response, marked by a 15%-30% reduction. Five of the patients with predominant bone metastases reported disease stabilization, according to results of an FDG-PET scan. One patient experienced disease progression while on treatment.
Overall, cabozantinib was generally well-tolerated without any grade 4 or 5 treatment-related adverse events reported. Some of the most common adverse events reported included grade mild dysgeusia, hand and foot syndrome, mucositis, fatigue, weight loss, and hypertension, according to the authors.
Primary Source – American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists meeting – AACE 2018; Abstract 142. attended my Medscape writers
I generated this blog article to add value rather than just post the outputs for your own perusal. I hope you find it useful.
Please note that taking part in a clinical trial is a big decision and must be considered carefully in conjunction with your specialists if necessary. This article is not suggesting this trial is right for you. Please check the inclusion and exclusion criteria in the trials document carefully. (Pheo/Para patients see other clinical trial link above)
Theranostics is a joining of the words therapeutics and diagnostics. You may also see it conveyed as ‘Theragnostics’ and these terms are interchangeable. The basic aim of theranotistics is to find and then destroy the ‘bad guys‘. With Neuroendocrine Cancer, finding the tumours (the bad guys) can often be a challenge – they can be small and/or difficult to find – they are sometimes expert at camouflage. Moreover, once found, they can then be difficult to treat (destroy), as they can often prove resistant to conventional cancer drugs and many are inoperable due to sheer quantity, spread and positioning. When they are found and identified, it’s also really helpful to know from the intelligence gathered, how successful the destroy (therapeutic) part of the mission might be.
The nuclear scan uses the same targetin agent as the therapy, therefore if you cancer lights up on the nuclear scan, then the therapy will find its way to the cancer and hopefully work well. That is the beauty of theranostic pairing, i.e. the use of the same agent in the diagnostics – the ability to find, estimate likely success criteria and then hopefully destroy – or at least reduce the capability of the tumours and extend life.
A great example of an approved Theranostic Pairin Neuroendocrine Cancer, is the combination of the Somatostatin Receptor based Ga68 PET scan using NETSPOT or SomaKit TOC™ (US/Europe respectively) and Peptide Receptor Radiotherapy (PRRT) using Lutathera which both target NETs expressing the same somatostatin receptor, with PRRT intended to kill tumor cells by emitting a different kind of low-energy, short-range radiation than that of the diagnostic version. As mentioned above, the Ga68 PET scan can give a reasonably indication of therapeutic success using PRRT based on measurements taken during the scan (too complex for this article).
Nuclear medicine makes it possible by using the same molecular targeting compound to create diagnostic and therapeutic drugs, which work as theranostic pairings. Advanced Accelerator Applications’ theranostic platform is based on radiolabelling a single targeting molecule with either gallium Ga-68 for diagnostic use or lutetium Lu-177 for therapeutic use. AAA’s pipeline now includes several theranostic drug pairings for oncology indications including prostate and breast cancer; and gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST).
THERANOSTICS – FIND
Newer imaging agents targeting somatostatin receptors (SSTR) labelled with 68 Ga have been developed, namely, DOTATATE, DOTATOC and DOTANOC. They are collectively referred to as SSTR PET.
The main difference among these three tracers (DOTA-TOC, DOTA-NOC, and DOTA-TATE) is their variable affinity to SSTR subtypes. All of them can bind to SSTR2 and SSTR5, while only DOTA-NOC shows good affinity for SSTR3.
These agents have several benefits over In111-pentetreotide (Octreotide scan), including improved detection sensitivity, improved patient convenience due to the 2 hour length of the study (compared to 2 or 3 days with Octreoscan), decreased radiation dose, decreased biliary excretion due to earlier imaging after radiotracer administration, and the ability to quantify uptake. The quantification of the uptake can help decide whether a patient is suitable for PRRT. Eventually, all Octreotide scans should be replaced with SSTR PET. To confirm the advantages of SSTR PET over Octreotide scans, a study comprising 1,561 patients reported a change in tumour management occurred in over a third of patients after SSTR PET/CT even when performed after an Octreotide scan. Worth pointing out that SSTR PET is replacing the ageing Octreotide scan and not conventional imaging (CI). You can see the recommended scenarios for use of SSTR PET in this article published by the Journal of Nuclear Medicine
Ga68 PET scans have been in many locations for some time. Current excitement is focused on USA locations with Ga68 PET (NETSPOT) only recently approved (DOTATATE). Other countries/scan centres may use one of the other types of imaging agent.
Read much more about this scan in my detailed article on Ga68 PET here.
So SSTR PETs above have the ability to find and estimate likely success criteria for therapy. We are now in a position to move on to ‘THERApy’ – e.g. Peptide Receptor Radiotherapy or PRRT.
THERANOSTICS – DESTROY
Lutathera® (note the ‘THERA’ which makes up the brand name)
Europe Approval: LUTATHERA®(lutetium (177Lu) Oxodotreotide) is indicated for the treatment of unresectable or metastatic, progressive, well differentiated (G1 and G2), somatostatin receptor positive gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (GEPNETs) in adults.
USA Approval: LUTATHERA® (lutetium Lu 177 dotatate) is indicated for the treatment of somatostatin receptor-positive gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (GEP-NETs), including foregut, midgut and hindgut neuroendocrine tumors in adults.
For commercial purposes, the drug may be slightly different on a regional basis. For all intents and purposes it does the same job.
PRRT with LUTATHERA®
LUTATHERA® solution for infusion is a ‘radiolabelled somatostatin analog (SSA)’ comprised of a radionuclide (Lutetium-177) and a peptide (differs between Europe and USA)
The relevant SSA binds with high affinity to the somatostatin receptors (SSTR) overexpressed in malignant neuroendocrine cells such as the ones found in GEP-NETs.
Lutetium-177 is a β particle emitting radionuclide, with a mean penetration range of 0.67 millimetres in tissue (maximum penetration range of 2.2 mm) which is sufficient to kill targeted tumour cells with a limited effect on neighbouring normal cells.
The affinity for SSTRs and the specificity of binding ensures a high level of specificity in the delivery of radiation to the tumour. Before starting treatment with LUTATHERA®, imaging must confirm the presence of these receptors in tumour tissues.
As an example of how the drug is administered, please watch this short video from the European site:
Video courtesy of Advanced Accelerator Applications Please see the following post for a summary of PRRT activity worldwide. Please note this linked article is not designed to contain a list of every single location or country available – please bear that in mind when you read it – CLICK HERE
Welcome to my second ‘community’ newsletter, the monthly summary of NET news in Dec 2016, views and ICYMI (in case you missed it!).
December was a particularly special month. For the previous 3 months, I had been busily working behind the scenes and on my various social media presences to put on a good show for the 2016 WEGO Health Activist Awards. This paid off and I won the Best in Show ‘Community’ category in addition to being shortlisted as one of 5 finalists in the blog category. The community award was special because it means we all won the award as a part of this ‘Community’. I’ve picked up a whole new bunch of friends outside the NET world bringing much-needed exposure to NET Cancer. I had a quiet week resting before I resumed normal activity and then a sprint finish at the end of the month took me over the magic 10,000 blog hits figure (and even more on Facebook). Stick with me because I really need your help and support and anyone else you know who can assist. The WEGO awards brought a significant increase in twitter followers.
A quiet month in terms of numbers of blogs. 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:
First in a series of ‘spotlight on ……’ posts – this one on Pheochromocytomas and Paragangliomas. Read here.
I shared an inspiration message with you – one that I received from an old friend. Read ‘Keep your light burning’ which had a great response.
Confused about the difference between Lanreotide and Octreotide? This blog will help – it got a really good response and you can read it here. I also received lots of questions about the individual drugs which was great and shows the importance of this subject to patients out there.
Other News in Dec
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. Two new openings in Dec to report:
The exposure during the build up to the 2016 WEGO Health Activist Awardswhere I made the final in two categories continued into Dec culminating in the award win (you can listen to the announcement live here). I also featured in a radio show just before the announcement and you can listen to it here (start at 40.30).
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). 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. You can sign up for this newsletter here as I wont be posting it every day. Click this link and sign up if you think this is something you’d be interested in receiving.
Blog Milestone. My blog tipped over 200,000 views in Dec and it’s already accelerating toward a quarter of a million. Thanks – keep sharing!
Facebook Milestone. My Facebook page was 2 years old in Dec 🙂 Please recommend this page to anyone you think would be interested.
Facebook – 3726. 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’)
I spend a lot of time talking about the most common forms of Neuroendocrine Tumours (NETs), but what about the less well-known types? As part of my commitment to all types of NETs, I’d like to shine a light on two less common tumour types known as Pheochromocytomas and Paragangliomas – incidence rate approximately 8 per million per year. They are normally grouped together and the definitions below will confirm why. If you think it’s difficult to diagnose a mainstream NET, this particular sub-type is a real challenge.
So, let’s get definitions out of the way:
Pheochromocytomas (Pheo for short)
Pheochromocytomas are tumours of the adrenal gland that produce excess adrenaline. They arise from the central portion of the adrenal gland, which is called the adrenal medulla (the remainder of the gland is known as the cortex which performs a different role and can be associated with a different tumour type). The adrenal medulla is responsible for the normal production of adrenaline, which our body requires to help maintain blood pressure and to help cope with stressful situations. The adrenal glands are situated on top of the kidneys (i.e. there are two). Adrenaline is also called ‘epinephrine’ which is curiously one of the 5 E’s of Carcinoid Syndrome.
Paragangliomas (Para for short)
Paragangliomas are tumours that grow in cells of the ‘peripheral’ nervous system (i.e. the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord). Like Pheochromocytomas, they can release excess adrenaline. There can be confusion between the two types of tumour as Paragangliomas are often described as extra-adrenal Pheochromocytomas (i.e. a Pheo external to the adrenal gland).
Going forward, I’m going to talk about both using the single term of ‘Pheochromocytoma’ in the context of an adrenaline secreting tumour but may refer to Paraganglioma where there might be a difference other than anatomical location.
Pheochromocytomas are often referred to as the “ten percent tumour” because as a rule of thumb they do many things about ten percent of the time. However, these figures are slowly changing, so this label is gradually becoming less apparent. The following is a fairly exhaustive list of these characteristics:
A few facts about Pheochromocytomas
As much as 1 in 3 are Malignant but most have undetermined biologic potential. A recent document issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that “Paragangliomas should not be termed benign”.
Around 10% of Pheochromocytomas are Bilateral (i.e. found in both adrenal glands: 90% arise in just one of the two adrenal glands)
Around 10% are Extra-Adrenal (found within nervous tissue outside of the adrenal glands … i.e. 10% are Paragangliomas)
Around 10% are found in Children (i.e. 90% in adults)
Up to 30% are Familial potentially rising to 50% for metastatic cases and Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN) involvement.
The recurrence rate is around 16%, i.e. about 1 in 6 patients have a tumor that comes back after surgery. Tumors that come back also have the potential to be malignant. If you have pheo or para and have surgery to remove it, be sure to continue to check in with your doctor to monitor for any returning tumors.
Present with a stroke (10% of these tumours are found after the patient has a stroke)
The classic symptoms of Pheochromocytomas are those attributable to excess adrenaline production. Often these patients will have recurring episodes of sweating, headache, and a feeling of high anxiety.
Headaches (severe)(one of the classic triad, see below)
Excess sweating (generalized)(one of the classic triad, see below)
Racing heart (tachycardia and palpitations)(one of the classic triad, see below)
Anxiety and nervousness
Nervous shaking (tremors)
Pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen
Nausea (with or without vomiting)
According to the ISI Book on NETs (Woltering, Vinik, O’Dorisio, et al), Pheochromocytomas present with a classic triad of symptoms and signs: headache, palpitations and sweating. This symptom complex has a high specificity and sensitivity (>90%) for the diagnosis of Pheochromocytomas. The figure is much lower in individual symptom presentations (palpitations 50%, sweating 30%, headaches 20%). In addition to correctly diagnosing from these symptoms, Pheochromocytomas may also be found incidentally during a surgical procedure even after a diagnosis of an ‘adrenal incidentaloma’
Markers. Like serotoninsecreting tumours, adrenal secreting tumours convert the offending hormone into something which comes out in urine. In fact, this is measured by 24 hour urine test very similar to 5HIAA (with its own diet and drug restrictions). It’s known as 24-hour urinary catacholamines and metanephrines. This test is designed to measure production of the different types of adrenaline compounds that the adrenal glands make. Since the body gets rid of these hormones in the urine, we simply collect a patient’s urine for 24 hours to determine if they are over-produced. Like 5HIAA, there is also a plasma (blood draw) version of the test. According to the ISI Book on NETs, there is also an additional test called ‘Vanillylmandelic Acid (VMA). This reference also indicates the most sensitive test is plasma free total metanephrines. Also read more here.
Genetics. The familial connection with Pheo/Para is complex. Up to 13 genes have been identified including NF1, RET, VHL, SDHA, SDHB, SDHC, SDHD, SDHAF2(SDH5), TMEM127, MAXm EPAS1, FH, MDH2. Read more here ( recent update). The NIH also have a useful section –click here.
Scans. Other than the usual range of scanners, ultrasound, CT/MRI, all of which may be used to find evidence of something, the other scan of note is called MIBG. This is a nuclear scan similar in concept to the Octreotide Scan given to many NET patients (in fact some Pheo patients my get an Octreotide scan if they have somatostatin receptors). The key differences with MIBG is the liquid radioactive material mix which is called iodine-123-meta-iodobenzylguanidine or 131-meta-iodobenzylguanidine (this is where the acronym MIBG originates). Together with the markers above, the results will drive treatment. Depending on availability, the latest PET scans may also be available potentially offering greater detail and accuracy i.e. 18F-FDOPA, 18F-FDG and Ga68. Read more on scans here.
This statement and diagram was provided by Dr Mark Lewis who is an Oncologist and MEN patient. “The algorithm for working up a hyperadrenergic state is attached (and was developed by Dr. Young at Mayo Clinic). It outlines the most reliable testing for a pheo or Paraganglioma”
Additional Factors and Considerations
This is an awareness post so I’m not covering treatment options in any detail except to say that surgery if often used to remove as much tumour as possible. Somatostatin Analogues may also be used in certain scenarios in addition to other hormone suppression or symptom controlling drugs. That said, Pheo/Para patients may be interested in a PRRT trial exclusively for Pheo/Para – read more here (see section entitled – “What about Pheo/Para”)
The adrenal cortex mentioned above is actually the site for Adrenocortical Carcinoma (ACC) – this is a totally different cancer.
Pheochromocytomas are probably difficult to diagnose (you only have to look at the symptoms to see that). The differential diagnoses (i.e. potential misdiagnoses) are: hyperthyroidism, hypoglycaemia, mastocytosis, carcinoid syndrome, menopause, heart failure, arrhythmias, migraine, epilepsy, porphyria lead poisoning, panic attacks and fictitious disorders such as the use of cocaine and benzedrine.
Many Pheochromocytoma patients will also be affected by Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN), in particular MEN2 (there are some wide-ranging percentage figures online for this aspect). There can also be an association with Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) syndrome and lesscommonly with Neurofibromatosis type 1.
Given the nature of the hormones involved with Pheochromocytomas, there is a risk of intraoperative hypertensive crises. This is similar in some ways to Carcinoid Crisis but needs careful consideration by those involved in any invasive procedure.
Newly Approved Drug – AZEDRA
On 30th July 2018, Progenics Pharmaceuticals Announces FDA Approval for AZEDRA® (iobenguane I 131) to Treat Unresectable, Locally Advanced or Metastatic Pheochromocytoma or Paraganglioma – read more by clicking here.
Pheochromocytomas are very complex involving many of the challenges found in the more abundant and common types of NETs. To underscore this statement, please see this case studywhere one patient was misdiagnosed with psychiatric problems for 13 years before being correctly diagnosed with a metastatic Pheochromocytoma.
This is an extremely basic overview offered as an awareness message about the lesser known types of NETs. I refer you to my disclaimer. If you wish to learn more about Pheochromocytomas and Paragangliomas, check out the links below.
The word ‘crisis’ has a wide range of meanings and it’s well used in the media to catch the reader’s attention. Lately, the terms ‘political crisis’, financial ‘crisis’ and ‘constitutional crisis’ appear almost daily in media headlines. In a previous life, the term ‘crisis management’ was used daily in the work I was undertaking as I went from problem to problem, dampening or putting out fires (….. that’s a metaphor!). Thinking back, my adrenaline (epinephrine), norepinephrine, and cortisol must have been very busy!
However, in the world of Neuroendocrine Tumours (NETs), ‘crisis’ has a very significant meaning and its very mention will make ears prick up. The word ‘crisis’ is normally spoken or written using the term ‘Carcinoid Crisis’ given this is the type of NET with which it has been mostly associated. However, I’ve studied and researched and it would appear that some form of ‘crisis’ might apply to other types of NETs. Perhaps this is another knock-on effect caused by the historical use of the word ‘Carcinoid’ to incorrectly refer to all NETs. In terms of ‘crisis’, maybe there should be a more generic NETs wide term? Of course there should, once again ‘carcinoid’ is causing confusion.
What is (so called) ‘Carcinoid Crisis’?
In the simplest of terms, it is a dangerous change in blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing (technical term – cardiopulmonary hemodynamic instability). On an operating table under anaesthetics or an invasive procedure such as liver embolization, this can actually be life threatening. Incidentally, this happens with many other types of conditions (hormones and peptides do exist in other illnesses). However, with a patient already oversecreting these hormones and peptides, it could be a life or death situation.
What is the difference between carcinoid crisis and carcinoid syndrome?
Carcinoid crisis is said to be a situation where nearly all of the possible symptoms of carcinoid syndrome come at the same time and in some severity. Carcinoid crisis is a serious and life-threatening complication of carcinoid syndrome, and is generally found in people who already have carcinoid syndrome. The crisis may occur suddenly, or it can be associated with stress, a reaction to treatment, but it is mainly as a result of the use of anaesthesia. There is a thin line between a very severe bout of carcinoid syndrome and carcinoid crisis but generally it can be characterized by an abrupt flushing of face and sometimes upper body, usually severe falls in blood pressure and even bronchospasm with wheezing can infrequently occur. The attack may look like a severe allergic reaction.
It is said by one very well-known NET expert to “not to be something which happens randomly to all patients, it is usually linked to a medical procedure of some sort when you are having anaesthesia”. Dr Eric Liu also said “Luckily it is relatively uncommon”.
Why does it happen to some NET Patients?
NETs can release a variety of ‘vasoactive peptides’ (hormones) in excess (e.g. serotonin, catecholamines, histamine). Under normal circumstances, these would just present as routine syndromes which may need to be controlled in most cases with somatostatin analogue treatment (Octreotide/Lanreotide).
Excess amounts of these vasoactive substances can cause both hypertension and hypotension (high and low blood pressure respectively). In extreme cases this can lead to what is known as a crisis situation.
How is the risk managed?
Most people are effectively managed on monthly injections of Octreotide/Lanreotide but some people still need ‘rescue shots’ (top ups) where they are experiencing breakthrough symptoms. When I was symptomatic (syndromic), I would regularly flush in stressful situations but that was definitely syndrome rather than crisis. Check out my video explaining how I felt. It’s worth reading something called the 5 E’s of Carcinoid Syndrome, probably useful to other types of NETs as I’m sure there is some overlap.
If you research this plus perhaps from your own experience, you will know there are different ideas and ‘protocols’. However, they all mostly involve some pre-procedure infusion of a somatostatin analogue (normally Octreotide) – although I’d love to hear from anyone who has had Lanreotide as an alternative. Some doctors or hospitals are known to have their own ‘protocols’ and I’ve uploaded the one from the ISI NET book page 215 (Wang, Boudreaux, O’Dorisio, Vinik, Woltering, et al). Click here. Please note this is an example rather than a recommendation as this is something the NOLA team have developed for their own centre.
In all the big procedures I’ve had done in my local NET Centre, I have always been admitted the day before to receive what they describe as an ‘Octreotide Soak’. The link below is an example of the UK standard for pre and peri-operative protection (please note your NET team may be working to a slightly different protocol based on their own version of best practice, just to emphasise that this is an example and not advice).
Patients are always asking about the risk and requirements for smaller procedures such as an Endoscopy. There does not seem to common guidance on this but Dr Woltering who is always forthcoming with advice suggests 200 micrograms of Octreotide before the procedure commences.
Dental visits involving anaesthetics can also be an issue and you can see Dr Woltering’s advice in my blog about the 5 Es of Carcinoid Syndrome. Additionally there is advice for users of ‘Epi Pens’. You also need to derisk those situations.
What about other types of NETs
The ISI Book Link above (herefor convenience), does state “regardless of tumor type, all NETs should be pre-treated with Octreotide for protection against crisis“. I know that NET patients other than those with ‘Carcinoid Tumours’ are also treated with somatostatin analogues, as they too can be subject to the effects of excess secretion of certain vasoactive peptides.
Why is the issue relative to Pheochromocytoma/Paraganglioma?
Pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas are catecholamine-producing neoplasms that can cause life-threatening hemodynamic instability, particularly intraoperatively, when the tumor is manipulated. In some ways their version of ‘crisis’ is more complex and dangerous than in the issues with carcinoid crisis above. There needs to be significant pre-operative preparation in addition to peri-operative measures, in fact with this type of tumour, post surgical treatment and monitoring is also required.
I recently read an article about a person with a Pheochromocytoma. The person had what was described as an ‘Intraoperative Hypertensive Crisis‘ that appeared to be caused by her tumour type rather than the sort of incident that might occur in a standard surgery. Hypertension (high blood pressure) can be a symptom of Pheochromocytoma so you can see the problem with surgery and other procedures. An interesting issue with this type of NET is that after surgery, the patient is at risk for hypotension (low blood pressure) from venous dilation caused by the sudden withdrawal of catecholamines. Read more here.
I highly suspect there are many examples from the NET world beyond the ‘carcinoid’subtype of NETs and I’ve already given you one above. I’ll update this blog as I discover other examples. In the meantime, make sure you ask your medical team about ‘crisis protection’ if you are to undergo any surgical or invasive medical procedure. Minor procedures should also be assessed.
Do we need to rename the term Carcinoid Crisis to Neuroendocrine Crisis? Probably …… let’s give it a red card!
One of the most controversial aspects of Neuroendocrine Neoplasms, in particular low grade Neuroendocrine Tumours (NETs), is the ‘benign vs malignant’ question. It’s been widely debated and it frequently patrols the various patient forums and other social media platforms. It raises emotions and it triggers many responses ….. at least from those willing to engage in the conversation. At best, this issue can cause confusion, at worst, it might contradict what new patients have been told by their physicians (….or not been told). I don’t believe it’s an exact science and can be challenging for a NET specialist let alone a doctor who is not familiar with the disease.
NANETS Guidance talks about the ‘…heterogeneous clinical presentations and varying degrees of aggressiveness‘ and ‘…there are many aspects to the treatment of neuroendocrine tumours that remain unclear and controversial‘. I’m sure the ‘benign vs malignant’ issue plays a part in these statements.
In another example, ENETS Guidance discusses (e.g.) Small Intestine Tumours (Si-NETs) stating that they ‘derive from serotonin-producing enterochromaffin cells. The biology of these tumors is different from other NENs of the digestive tract, characterized by a low proliferation rate [the vast majority are grade 1 (G1) and G2], they are often indolent’. However, they then go on to say that ‘Si-NETs are often discovered at an advanced disease stage – regional disease (36%) and distant metastasis (48%) are present‘. It follows that the term ‘indolent‘ does not mean they are not dangerous and can be ignored and written off as ‘benign’. This presents a huge challenge to physicians when deciding whether to cut or not to cut.
To fully understand this issue, I studied some basic (but very widely accepted) definitions of cancer. I also need to bring the ‘C’ word into the equation (Carcinoid), because the history of these tumours is frequently where a lot of the confusion lies. The use of the out of date term by both patients, patient advocates and doctors exacerbates the issue given that it decodes to ‘carcinoma like‘ which infers it is not a proper cancer. See more below.
Let’s look at these definitions provided by the National Cancer Institute. Please note I could have selected a number of organisations but in general, they all tend to agree with these definitions give or take a few words. These definitions help with understanding as there can be an associated ‘tumour’ vs ‘cancer’ debate too.
Cancer – Cancer is the name given to a collection of related diseases. In all types of cancer, some of the body’s cells begin to divide without stopping and spread into surrounding tissues. There are more than 100 types of cancer which are usually named for the organs or tissues where the cancers form. However, they also may be described by the type of cell that formed them.
Author’s note: The last sentence is important for Neuroendocrine Tumour awareness (i.e. Neuroendocrine Tumour of the Pancreas rather than Pancreatic Cancer).
Carcinoma – Carcinomas are the most common grouping of cancer types. They are formed by epithelial cells, which are the cells that cover the inside and outside surfaces of the body. There are many types of epithelial cells, which often have a column-like shape when viewed under a microscope.
Author’s note: By definition, Carcinomas are malignant, i.e. they are without question malignant cancers. Poorly differentiated Neuroendocrine Neoplasms are deemed to be a ‘Neuroendocrine Carcinoma’ according to the most recent World Health Organisation (WHO) classification of Neuroendocrine Tumours (2017) and ENETS 2016 Guidance. You will have heard of some of the types of Carcinoma such as ‘Adenocarcinoma’ (incidentally, the term ‘Adeno’ simply means ‘gland’). It follows that Grade 3 Neuroendocrine Carcinomas (NEC) are beyond the scope of this discussion.
Malignant – Cancerous. Malignant cells can invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.
Benign – Not cancerous. Benign tumors may grow larger but do not spread to other parts of the body.
Author’s Note: This is a key definition because there are people out there who think that low grade NETs are not cancer.
Tumour (Tumor) – An abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should. Tumors may be benign (not cancerous), or malignant (cancerous). Also called Neoplasm.
Author’s Note: Neoplasm is an interesting term as this is what is frequently used by ENETS and NANETS in their technical documentation, sometimes to cover all Neuroendocrine types of cancer (Tumor and Carcinoma). It follows that a malignant tumour is Cancer. The term “Malignant Neuroendocrine Tumour” is the same as saying “Neuroendocrine Cancer”
Neuroendocrine Tumours – Benign or Malignant?
Definitions out of the way, I have studied the ENETS, UKINETS and NANETS guidance both of which are based on internationally recognised classification schemes (i.e. the World Health Organisation (WHO)).
In older versions of the WHO classification schemes (1980 and 2000), the words ‘benign’ and ‘uncertain behaviour’ were used for Grades 1 and 2. However, the 2010 edition, the classification is fundamentally different (as is the recent 2017 publication). Firstly, it separated out grade and stage for the first time (stage would now be covered by internationally accepted staging systems such as TNM – Tumour, (Lymph) Nodes, Metastasis). Additionally, and this is key to the benign vs malignant discussion, the WHO 2010 classification is based on the concept that all NETs have malignant potential. Here’s a quote from the UKINETS 2011 Guidelines (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 2017 WHO reinforces this statement to include endocrine organs, including the pancreas and adrenal glands.
History lesson – Carcinoid tumours were first identified as a specific, distinct type of growth in the mid-1800’s, and the name “karzinoide” was first applied in 1907 by German pathlogist Siegfried Oberndorfer in Europe in an attempt to designate these tumors as midway between carcinomas (cancers) and adenomas (benign tumors).
The word ‘Carcinoid’ originates from the term ‘Carcinoma-like’. ‘CARCIN’ is a truncation of Carcinoma. ‘OID’ is a suffix used in medical parlance meaning ‘resembling’ or ‘like’. This is why many people think that Carcinoid is not a proper cancer.
The situation is made even more confusing by those who use the term “Carcinoid and Neuroendocrine Tumors” inferring that it is a separate disease from the widely accepted and correct term ‘Neuroendocrine Tumor’ or Neuroendocrine Neoplasm. A separate discussion on this subject can be found in this post here. I encourage you to stop using the term ‘Carcinoid’ which is just perpetuating the problem.
How are NENs Classified?
If you read any NET support website it will normally begin by stating that Neuroendocrine Tumours constitute a heterogeneous group of tumours. This means they are a wide-ranging group of different types of tumours. However, the latest WHO classification scheme uses the terms ‘Neuroendocrine Tumour’ for well differentiated Grade 1 (low-grade), Grade 2 (Intermediate Grade) and Grade 3 (High Grade) NET; and ‘Neuroendocrine Carcinoma’ (NEC) for poorly differentiated tumours which are by default grade 3 or high grade. They also use the term ‘Neoplasm’ to encompass all types of NET and NEC. So Grade 1 is a low-grade malignancy and so on (i.e any grade of NET is a malignant tumour). You may benefit from reading my blog article on Staging and Grading of NETs as this is also a poorly understood area.
Can some NETs be Benign?
By any accepted definition of cancer terms, a tumour can be non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). This is correct for any cancer type. For example, the word is used in the 2016 version of Inter Science Institute publication on Neuroendocrine Tumors, a document I frequently reference in my blog. For example, I’ve seen statements such as “These tumors are most commonly benign (90%)” in relation to Insulinoma (a type of Pancreatic NET or pNET). Ditto for Pheochromocytoma (an adrenal gland NET). Adrenal and Pituitary ‘adenomas’ are by definition benign (adenoma is the benign version of Adenocarcinoma). And I note that there is a ‘benign’ code option for every single NET listed in the WHO International Classification of Diseases (ICD) system.
The ‘BUT‘ is this – all WHO classification systems are based on the concept that NETs always have malignant potential. The WHO 2017 classification update confirmed this thinking by adding endocrine organs including the pancreas and adrenal glands.
Can Tumours be Malignant or become Malignant?
Using the definition above, if a tumour invades and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body, then it’s malignant (i.e Cancer). However, there’s a reason why the WHO declared in 2010 that all NETs have malignant potential (as amplified in WHO 2017). It may not happen or it may happen slowly over time but as Dr Richard Warner says, “they don’t all fulfill their malignant potential, but they all have that possible outcome”. Thus why ongoing surveillance is important after any diagnosis of Neuroendocrine Tumour of any grade or at any stage. Dr Lowell Anthony, a NET Specialist from the University of Kentucky explains this much better than I can – CLICK HEREto hear his two-minute video clip. This issue even caused confusion with doctors, some of whom still think a Stage 4 NET is still benign. Not only is this very insensitive to the patient concerned but it also goes against all the definitions of ‘benign’ and ‘malignant’ that exist in authoritative texts.
This was a difficult piece of research. I do believe there are scenarios where NETs will be benign and probably never cause the person any real harm (e.g. many are found on autopsies). I suspect this is the same for many cancers. However, based on the above text and the stories of people who have presented for a second time but with metastatic disease, use of the word ‘benign’ is probably best used with great care.
I would certainly (at least) raise an eyebrow if someone said to anyone with any NET tumour, “you don’t need any treatment or surveillance for a NET”; or “it has been cured and no further treatment or surveillance is required”. Particularly if they are not a NET specialist or a recognised NET Centre.
Scanning is a key diagnostic support and surveillance tool for any cancer. Even though you have elevated bloods or urine (….or not), a picture of your insides is really like a thousand words…. and each picture has a story behind it. Scanning can be a game changer in the hunt for tumours and although scans do not normally confirm the cancer type and grade, they certainly help with that piece of detective work and are key in the staging of the cancer.
When I read stories of people in a difficult diagnosis, I always find myself saying ‘a scan might resolve this’ and I always suggest people should try to get one. Even in the case of a story about late diagnosis or a misdiagnosis, I find myself thinking ‘if only they had done a scan earlier’. Despite what you read on NET forums, a CT scan will be able to find some evidence of tumour activity in 90-95% of cases. However, some are cunningly small or hiding and it can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
However, scans are not an exact science…..not yet! Apart from human error, sometimes tumours are too small to see and/or there are issues with ‘pickup’ (i.e. with NETs, nuclear scans need efficient somatostatin receptors). The differences between scan types are more quality (sensitivity) related as new technologies are introduced.
As for my own experience, I was very lucky. I managed to get a referral to a specialist early on in my diagnosis phase. He looked at the referral notes and said “what are you doing this afternoon“. I replied “whatever you want me to do“. He didn’t know I had cancer but his instincts led him to believe he needed to see inside my body, he wanted to scan me. The scan results were pretty clear – I had a metastatic Cancer and further checks were now needed to ascertain exactly what it was. So I took my seat on the roller coaster. Medicine is not an exact science (not yet anyway) but here’s something I believe is a very common occurrence in all cancers – If your doctors don’t suspect something, they won’t detect anything.
There’s frequent discussion about the best types of scans for different types of NETs and which is best for different parts of the anatomy. There’s also different views on the subject (including in the medical community), However, a few well known facts can be gleaned from authoritative NET sources:
Computed Topography (CT)
CT scans are often the initial imaging study for a patient presenting with signs or symptoms suggestive of many cancers including NET. These studies are most useful for disease staging and surgical planning as they provide excellent anatomic detail of the tumors themselves and surrounding structures. Primary NETs (GI and lung NETs) and their metastases are generally hyperenhancing with IV contrast and are best seen in the arterial phase of a triple phase CT scan.
In primary NETs, the average sensitivity of a CT scan is 73%. CT scans have even better sensitivity in detecting NET metastases, as they demonstrate 80% sensitivity for liver metastases (but see MRI below) and 75% sensitivity for other metastases (non-liver). This modality is also useful when the primary tumor site is unknown. In one single-institution retrospective study, it was the most common study ordered to look for an unknown primary tumor site and was able to uncover the primary in 95% of cases.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
MRI is the best conventional study to detail liver metastases in NETs. It is not as useful as CT for the detection of primary small bowel lesions or their associated lymphadenopathy, but is good for the detection of primary pancreatic NETs. A study comparing MRI, CT and standard somatostatin receptor-based imaging (OctreoScan) reported 95.2% sensitivity for MRI, 78.5% sensitivity for CT and 49.3% sensitivity for the OctreoScan in detecting hepatic metastases. MRI also detected significantly more liver lesions than the other two modalities.
You may see something called Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography (MRCP). Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) is a special type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam that produces detailed images of the hepatobiliary and pancreatic systems, including the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, pancreas and pancreatic duct.
The primary role of conventional ultrasound in neuroendocrine disease is detection of liver metastases and estimation of total liver tumor burden. This technique has the advantages of near-universal availability, intraoperative utility, minimal expense and lack of radiation. Most examinations are performed without contrast, which limits their sensitivity (compared with CT and MRI). I know in my own situation, US was used as a quick check following identification of multiple liver metastasis during a CT scan. I’ve also had US used to monitor distant lymph nodes in the neck area but always in conjunction with the most recent CT scan output.
Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS)
With increased access to endoscopy, NETs in the stomach, duodenum, and rectum are increasingly incidentally detected on upper endoscopy and colonoscopy. Patients are frequently asymptomatic without any symptoms referable to the a NET (i.e. non-functional). EUS has also been used to survey patients at increased risk of developing pancreatic NETs. For example, patients with multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN). They are also frequently used in conjunction with biopsies using fine needle aspiration (FNA) guided by EUS.
Somatostatin receptor-based imaging techniques
Somatostatin is an endogenous peptide that is secreted by neuroendocrine cells, activated immune cells and inflammatory cells. It affects its antiproliferative and antisecretory functions by binding to one of five types of somatostatin receptors (SSTR1- SSTR5). These are G-protein coupled receptors and are normally distributed in the brain, pituitary, pancreas, thyroid, spleen, kidney, gastrointestinal tract, vasculature, peripheral nervous system and on immune cells. Expression of SSTRs is highest on well-differentiated NETs. Somatostatin receptor type 2 is the most highly expressed subtype, followed by SSTRs 1 and 5, SSTR3 and SSTR4.
It must be noted that even the most modern scans are not an exact science. Radionuclide scans are like conventional imaging, they can be subject to physiological uptake or false positives, i.e. they can indicate suspicious looking ‘glows’ which mimic tumours. This article explains it better than I can – click here.
The ubiquity of SSTRs on NET cell surfaces makes them ideal targets for treatment (e.g. Somatostatin Analogues (Octreotide/Lanreotide) and PRRT), but also for imaging. There are two primary types of somatostatin receptor-based imaging available:
Octreoscan – In111 based
The most common (currently) is the OctreoScan or Somatostatin Receptor Scintigraphy (SRS), which uses the ligand 111In-DPTA-D-Phe-1-octreotide and binds primarily to SSTR2 and SSTR5. In its original form, it provided a planar, full body image. In modern practice, this image is fused with single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and CT. This takes advantage of the specificity of the OctreoScan and the anatomic detail provided by SPECT/CT, improving OctreoScan’s diagnostic accuracy. These improvements have been shown to alter the management in approximately 15% of cases, compared with just OctreoScan images. In primary tumors, the OctreoScan’s sensitivity ranges from 35 to 80%, with its performance for unknown primary tumors dipping beneath the lower end of that range (24%). Its ability to detect the primary is limited by the size but not SSTR2 expression, as tumors less than 2 cm are significantly more likely not to localize but do not have significantly different SSTR2 expression than their larger counterparts.
Octreoscan – Tc99m based
In one study, it was shown that sensitivity and negative predictive
values of Tc-99m-Octreotide scan is significantly higher than that of CT
and MRI. Using Tc-99m instead of In-111 had several advantages that
include better availability, cheaper and higher quality images. In
addition, to less radiation exposure to both patients and nuclear
medicine personnel. In the absence of Ga68 PET, this could prove a reliable alternative. Please note this scan is completed in a single day vs In111 Octreotide time of 2-3 days.
Ga68 PET (or SSTR PET in general)
The newest somatostatin receptor-based imaging modality, although it has been around for some time, particularly in Europe. The most common of these labeled analogs are 68Ga-DOTATOC, 68Ga-DOTANOC and 68Ga-DOTATATE. They may be known collectively as ‘SSTR-PET’. Additionally, the DOTATATE version may often be referred to as NETSPOT in USA but technically that is just the commercial name for the radionuclide mix.
These peptides are easier and cheaper to synthesize than standard octreotide-analog based ligands, boast single time point image acquisition compared to 2 or 3 days with Octreoscan. Its superior spatial resolution derives from the fact that it measures the radiation from two photons coincidentally. SPECT, in comparison, measures the gamma radiation emitted from one photon directly. This results in different limitations of detection – millimeters for 68Ga-PET compared with 1 cm or more for SPECT. There are a few choices of ligands with this type of imaging, but the differences lie primarily in their SSTR affinities – all of the ligands bind with great affinity to SSTR2 and SSTR5. 68Ga-DOTANOC also binds to SSTR3. Despite these differences, no single 68Ga ligand has stood out as the clear choice for use in NETs. As with standard somatostatin receptor-based imaging, these 68Ga-PET studies are fused with CT to improve anatomic localization.
Comparison studies between 68Ga-PET and standard imaging techniques (CT, OctreoScan) have universally demonstrated the superiority of 68Ga-PET in detection of NET primary tumors and metastases. Two early studies compared 68Ga-DOTATOC to standard somatostatin imaging (SRS)-SPECT and CT. Buchmann et al. reported that 68Ga-DOTATOC detected more than 279 NET lesions in 27 patients with histologically proven NETs, whereas SRS-SPECT detected only 157. The greatest number of lesions were detected in the liver. 68Ga-DOTATOC found more than 152 hepatic lesions, while SRS-SPECT found only 105, resulting in a 66% concordance rate between the two modalities. The concordance for abdominal lymph nodes was worse at 40.1%. Cleary these advantages are going to impact on treatment plans, some needing to be altered. In addition, 68Ga-DOTA PET imaging can be used to determine which patients might benefit from use of Somatostatin Analogues (Octreotide/Lanreotide) and PRRT – you can read more about this integrated and potentially personalised treatment in my article on ‘Theranostics‘ – click here.
It’s worth pointing out that SSTR PET is replacing previous types of radionuclide scans, mainly Octreoscan (Indium 111) and is not replacing conventional imaging (CI) such as CT and MRI etc. Whilst SSTR-PET has demonstrated better sensitivity and specificity than CI and In-111, there are specific instances in which SSTR-PET is clearly preferred: at initial diagnosis, when selecting patients for PRRT, and for localization of unknown primaries. For patients in which the tumor is readily seen on CI, SSTR-PET is not needed for routine monitoring. The Journal of Nuclear Medicine has just published “Appropriate Use Criteria for Somatostatin Receptor PETImaging in Neuroendocrine Tumors” which gives guidance on it’s use – issued by the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI).
Other PET Scans
18-Fluoro-Deoxy-Glucose PET (FDG PET) is used to detect malignancy for a variety of tumor types. Unfortunately, its utility has not been borne out in NETs, as the majority of NETs tend to be relatively metabolically inactive and fail to take up the tracer well. However, high-grade NETs are more likely to demonstrate avid uptake of 18FDG, giving these scans utility in identifying tumors likely to display more aggressive behavior.
The use of Fluoro-18-L-Dihydroxyphenylalanine (18F-FDOPA) in PET was developed in the 80’s for the visualisation of the dopaminergic system in patients with degenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s Disease and related disorders. The ﬁrst publication on the use of 18F-FDOPA PET for brain imaging was in 1983, which was followed by many others on the use of 18F-FDOPA PET for the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Years later, in 1999 the ﬁrst publication on the use of 18F-FDOPA PET for imaging of neuroendocrine tumour appeared. The value of 18F-FDOPA PET has now been proven for the diagnosis and staging of many neuroendocrine tumours, brain tumours and congenital hyperinsulinaemia of infants.
18F-FDOPA is accurate for studying well differentiated tumours. However the difficult and expensive synthesis have limited its clinical employment. It currently can be successfully used for imaging tumours with variable to low expression of somatostatin receptors (SSTR) such as Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma, Neuroblastoma, Pheochromocytoma), and others that cannot be accurately studied with Somatostatin SSTR scans such as the OctreoScan (Somatostatin Receptor Scintigraphy (SRS)), which uses the ligand 111In-DPTA-D-Phe-1-octreotide or the newer 68Ga DOTA-peptides. Read more about the use of 18F-FDOPA in ‘endocrine tumours’ here. Please bear in mind that more recent Ga68 PET studies may supersede some of the data mentioned. If in doubt ask your specialist.
Radioiodinated (123I) metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) is an analog of norepinephrine that is used to image catecholamine-secreting NETs such as pheochromocytomas, paragangliomas and glomus tumors. It can also be used to look for Neuroblastoma in children. In patients with functional pheochromocytomas or paragangliomas, this modality has a sensitivity of 90% and positive predictive value of 100%. However, it has limited use in Gastrointestinal (GI) NETs, as this modality was positive in only 49.1% of patients. In the same cohort of patients, OctreoScan was positive in 91.2%. As an imaging tool, this study is best used to confirm a diagnosis of pheochromocytoma or paraganglioma and define the extent of metastatic disease in these tumors. (Note – the Ga68 PET is rising in prominence though). Its most practical use in GI NETs may be to determine whether patients with metastases may benefit from treatment with 131I-MIBG (a form of radiotherapy). Please bear in mind that more recent Ga68 PET studies may supersede some of the data mentioned. If in doubt ask your specialist.
Parathyroid Scan – Sestamibi
Sestamibi scanning is the preferred way in which to localize diseased parathyroid glands prior to an operation. This parathyroid scan was invented in the early 1990’s and now is widely available. Sestamibi is a small protein which is labeled with the radio-pharmaceutical technetium99 (Tc99m). This very mild and safe radioactive agent is injected into the veins of a patient with hyperparathyroidism (parathyroid disease) and is absorbed by the overactive parathyroid gland. Since normal parathyroid glands are inactive when there is high calcium in the bloodstream, they do not take up the radioactive particles. When a gamma camera is placed over the patient’s neck an accurate picture will show the overactive gland. Only the overactive parathyroid gland shows up…a very accurate test.
The Sestamibi scan will display the hyperactive gland which is causing hyperparathyroidism in about 90 percent (90% sensitivity) of all patients. If the Sestamibi does show the hyperactive gland it is almost always correct (98-100% specificity). It takes approximately two hours to perform the Sestamibi scan after it has been injected. Pictures of the neck and chest are usually taken immediately after the injection and again in 1.75 to 2.0 hours (shown above). Newer techniques allow for more complete two and three dimensional images to be obtained of a patient’s neck. This technique is called SPECT scanning (Single Proton Emission Computerized Tomography) but it is usually not necessary.
Skeletal Scintigraphy (bone scan)
Quite often, bone metastases in NETs will be found via conventional imaging or special to NET nuclear scans such as Ga68 PET or MIBG. However, a bone scan can often find them or confirm findings of scans looking for NETs.
Skeletal scintigraphy is a special type of nuclear medicine procedure that uses small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose and assess the severity of a variety of bone diseases and conditions, including fractures, infection, and cancer.
Nuclear medicine imaging procedures are non-invasive and — with the exception of intravenous injections — usually painless medical tests that help physicians diagnose and evaluate medical conditions. These imaging scans use radioactive materials called radiopharmaceuticals or radiotracers. Radioactive energy emitted from the radiotracer is detected by a special camera or imaging device that produces pictures of the bones called scintigrams. Abnormalities are indicated by areas of abnormal bone that take up more or less of the radiopharmaceutical which appear brighter or darker than normal bone on the scintigram.
Because nuclear medicine procedures are able to image the functions of the body at the molecular level, they offer the potential to identify disease in its earliest stages as well as a patient’s response to therapeutic interventions. In fact, a bone scan can often find bone abnormalities much earlier than a regular x-ray exam.
Taking the camera inside and directly to the Tumour
Of course there are other ways to “see it” via several types of Endoscopy procedures – taking the camera to the tumour. Read my article about this by clicking here
A look to the future of PET Scans
Just imagine something which is 40 times better than current PET scan technology? That’s what the scientists are working on now. Here’s an example called “EXPLORER“. Clearly there are more answers required in order to see if this is suitable for use with NETs (i.e. will it work with our radionuclide tracers etc) but it is very exciting and like something out of Star Trek. A little bit of me is worried about ‘overdiagnosis’ so interpretation of something that detailed will be very important to avoid unnecessary worry. Read more here and there is a later update here. Check out this cool video of the 3D images:
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Scanning is a key diagnostic and surveillance tool for any cancer. Even though you have elevated bloods or urine (….or not), a picture of your insides is really like a thousand words…. and each picture has a story behind it. Scanning can be a game changer in the hunt for tumours and although scans can’t (yet) confirm the cancer type and grade, they certainly help with that piece of detective work and are key in the staging of the cancer.
When I read stories of people in a difficult diagnosis, I always find myself saying ‘a scan might resolve this’ and I always suggest people should try to get one. Even in the case of a story about late diagnosis or a misdiagnosis, I find myself thinking ‘if only they had done a scan earlier’. Despite what you read on NET forums, a CT scan will normally find some evidence of most tumour activity.
However, scans are not an exact science…..not yet! Apart from human error, sometimes tumours are too small to see and/or there are issues with ‘pickup’ (i.e. with NETs, nuclear scans need efficient somatostatin receptors). However, technology is improving all the time and you can read about this in my blog Neuroendocrine Cancer – Exciting times Ahead.
As for my own experience, I was very lucky. I managed to get a referral to a specialist early on in my diagnosis phase. He looked at the referral notes and said “what are you doing this afternoon”. I replied “whatever you want me to do”. He wanted to scan me. He didn’t know I had cancer but his instincts led him to believe he needed to see inside my body. The scan results were pretty clear – I had a metastatic Cancer and further checks were now needed to ascertain exactly what it was. So I took my seat on the rollercoaster. Here’s something I always say I believe is so much better than the impractical early diagnosis messages that seem to pervade our community: If your doctors don’t suspect something, they won’t detect anything and I believe this is a very frequent outcome of many diagnoses for many cancers (not just NETs).
There’s frequent discussion about the best types of scans for different types of NETs and even for different parts of the anatomy. This is correct and there’s also different views on the subject (including in the medical community), However, a few well known facts that can be gleaned from authortative NET sources. I found this useful video summary from the NET Patient Foundation describing the different scans for NET Cancer and what to expect. Worth a look.
Sooner we can all get access to the latest radionuclide scans the better!
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.
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 in-country labs use different commercially available ‘testing kits’. Not all tests are available in all countries.
Reference ranges can be 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 tests 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 suspect 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 LabTestsOnlinewhich 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! (this is why it’s important to know the unit of measure and the reference range in addition to the figure).
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.
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 dissimilarelements;nothaving a uniformqualitythroughout). 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.
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.
Markers for measuring Tumour bulk or load/growth prediction
Chromogranin (plasma/blood test)
Chromogranin 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. Opinions differ but many texts I found did suggest stopping PPIs for 2 weeks before the CgA blood test. 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:
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.
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 Serotoninalthough 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.
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 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 (although I’ve seen some labs increase that to 10 or 12). 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. Taking 5HTP supplements are possibly not advised either prior to the test either.
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)
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.
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.
Somatostatinoma – Somatostatin (plasma somatostatin like immunoreactivity)
PPoma – Pancreatic Polypeptide (PP)
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.
[please note there are extremely rare occurrences of elevated calcitonin from places outside the thyroid – read more here.
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.
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.
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.
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!
This article is designed for patients to understand in a simple way and only covers the basics. If you are a medical professional, I recommend this artilcle:
Herrera-Martínez, A., Hofland, L., Gálvez Moreno, M., Castaño, J., de Herder, W., & Feelders, R. (2019). Neuroendocrine neoplasms: current and potential diagnostic, predictive and prognostic markers, Endocrine-Related Cancer. Retrieved Apr 5, 2019, from CLICK HERE
Since my diagnosis, I seem to have been in a perpetual learning phase! What not to do, what not to eat, what not to read! However, early on in my experience, I came across a list of ‘E’ words (5 of them) which is a handy reminder for Carcinoid Syndrome patients, particularly those whose symptoms are not under control. When I say “carcinoid syndrome” in this article, I only mean the syndrome that is caused by what was once called “Carcinoid Tumors”, i.e. mainly serotonin secreting types but include tumours which are well differentiated found in the small intestine, appendiceal, rectal, lung, and one or two other less common places. There are many variations of this list but this is my take! I suspect some of this also applies to other types of NETs and other NET Syndromes.
On analysis of this list, it struck me that I was aware of the issues and their potential effects and I’m certain there is science to substantiate the content. These E’s are apparently the most common ‘triggers’ for Carcinoid Syndrome. Clearly, they are not going to have the same effect on every patient e.g. I have the occasional drink of ‘Ethanol’ and I always enjoy it, I go for long exhausting walks as ‘Exercise’ and I always feel great after. I had dental treatment using ‘Epinephrine’ without any precautions before I was aware of the risks …….. nothing happened! Before I was treated, stressful meetings (‘Emotions’) at work would make me flush though! As for ‘Eating’ – well that’s another couple of blog’s worth! Worth noting that many people without carcinoid syndrome will have reactions to eating but there are specifics that might need some attention in someone with carcinoid syndrome and elevated 5HIAA levels.
The 5 Es are, however, not something to be totally ignored. In extreme scenarios, a severe attack of Carcinoid Syndrome symptoms could be debilitating and life-threatening and I’m fairly certain the list was compiled with this in mind. Some people are more affected by Carcinoid Syndrome and this is not necessarily related to the extent or aggressiveness of their disease. Some people just react differently. An extremely severe attack of Carcinoid Syndrome can also be known as a ‘Carcinoid Crisis’ which is very dangerous, mostly on the operating table due to the effects of anaesthetics – thus why many NET patients may be infused with somatostatin analogues (usually Octreotide) prior to, during, and for a period after surgery or other medical procedures. There’s a lot of excitement generated around the term ‘Carcinoid Crisis’ but it is very uncommon.
I’m not saying the 5 Es should be ignored but NETs are a complex disease and most things need to be read in the correct context. What works for some may not work for others. There can also be confusion surrounding the source of symptoms, i.e. are they syndrome or something else? This is why I believe NET patients need to answer some key questions when considering the risks associated with the 5 E’s:
Are you currently syndromic? If you are, then the 5 ‘E’ list is probably very good advice but interpreting the advice in the correct context remains important.
Are your syndrome related biochemistry results normal (e.g. 5HIAA)? Normal readings (in range) tend to mean the syndrome is under control and many people who were diagnosed with a syndrome may actually be non-syndromic following treatment.
Have you had treatment or are having treatment likely to produce side effects which might be confused with Carcinoid syndrome? For example, surgery can be the long term cause of diarrhea and other issues. Despite the role of somatostatin analogues, these could also be the root cause of certain reactions.
The vagaries of this disease will no doubt throw up some exceptions and additions. There will be patients who have no syndrome but have elevated biochemistry and vice versa. Additionally, there will be patients who have had surgery and/or are being treated with somatostatin analogues but will still be syndromic in varying degrees of severity.
The so-called ‘5 Es’ are as follows:
Epinephrine: This was a new piece of information for me and I only discovered this as a potential problem when I started monitoring some of the USA Facebook forums. This does not appear to be that well-known in UK.
Epinephrine (commonly known as adrenaline) is often used in dentistry mixed with a local anaesthetic. I won’t risk this, so I’ve instructed my Dentist to place a note on my record asking for epinephrine not be used (and clearly I’ll remind them each visit!). According to NET guru Dr Woltering, plain novocaine, carbocaine or plain marcaine are preferred. According to a dental source on my site (also a patient):
“4% Citanest Plain Dental (Prilocaine Hyrocholride Injection) is also safe and Epinephrine Free. It isn’t as profound of a numbness and may need reapplying during a procedure. It is the common alternative here in the USA.
4% Articaine without Epinephrine is also available and is known to work better on Mandibular Blocks. Again this is commonly used in the USA. It’s important to know what to ask for, not just ‘Epinephrine free’. Bring this up at your dental exam appointment, so that they will be sure to have it in stock. If you are unfamiliar with the office, schedule your appointment after they confirm that the proper local is in stock. Never use the term Novacaine as the generic term for dental anesthetic, this hasn’t been used in the USA for decades. Allergic reactions to Novacaine were too common. Lidocaine and Septocaine are the drug of choice. However, Lidocaine will always have Epinephrine. Where as, Septocaine (articaine) has versions with Ephedrine and without”.
Always check that your anaesthetist for any procedure you may be undergoing is aware of your carcinoid syndrome.
However, the danger is not just with dentistry work. Any anaesthesia is risky. Check out my post ‘carcinoid crisis’.
For those who have standby ‘Epi Pens’, I did read the following statement on the Carcinoid Cancer Foundation website: “ …….. one exception is the administration of epinephrine in the case of an allergic anaphylactic reaction (i.e. a bee sting), so it cannot be avoided in this case, just make sure that Octreotide (Sandostatin) is also available“. This advice is also extremely relevant to Pheochromocytoma and Paraganglioma patients who may be a high risk of “intraoperative hypertensive crisis”.
Eating: This is very individual. Certain foods or large meals can be difficult, particularly if you have had any gastrointestinal surgeries. I keep a personal diary trying to identify things that upset my system. I try to find some balance between what I know is good for me and also what I know I enjoy. For example, I found that very large meals do not agree with my ‘new plumbing’. If I eat a lot of sweets, I’ll also suffer …..so I just eat a little – check out my article Chocolate – The NET Effect.
Personally speaking, I’m fairly certain the vast majority of my issues are related to my treatment (past and present) rather than being provoked by Carcinoid Syndrome, i.e. if I rush to the toilet after a meal, it’s not syndrome, it’s a reaction of my compromised digestive system. So with this in mind, I try to reduce those things but additionally strike a balance between quality of life and excessive and rigid adherence to some of the guidance out there (see below) – as I said above, interpretation and context is important. My compromised system cannot deal with big meals so I ‘graze’ most of the day and then eat a small to medium-sized meal in the evening. I’ve been doing this since 2014 and reduced my visits by 300% without any special or expensive medication.
In my blog Nutrition Blog 4 – Food for Thought, I’ve linked to authoritative sources on potential diet triggers. I’m not suggesting you cut out all of the foods on these lists (you won’t last long!). Some can indulge in those foods and some cannot. For example, chocolate and caffeine (tea/coffee) are on the lists but I eat/drink those frequently (in moderation) and have no problem. It’s a case of testing things out. I like to describe my eating as ‘The Risk Management of my Quality of Life’. By the way, no-one is suggesting that a NET patient with carcinoid syndrome (and don’t forget this is only one syndrome of many with NETs) should stop eating foods high in the offending amines or are precursors to serotonin (e.g. tryptophan). They do not make tumours grow (a myth) but just make sure you adhere to the dietary restrictions for any 5HIAA test.
Emotions: Stressful situations can cause symptoms to flare up. While it is difficult to avoid all stress (work, home, commuting, etc), it is helpful if you can manage or reduce it. Like eating, this is a very individual area. From personal experience, I know stress can exacerbate carcinoid syndrome. Before I started my treatment, I was regularly flushing in meetings at work (….. think boxing matches!). After my treatment, stress was definitely a factor causing increased bowel motility. I’ve removed a lot of stress from my life and it helps. You may need to be ruthless in managing this aspect of your illness.
Exercise: Exercise is extremely important for overall health and well-being and I know quite a lot of NET Cancer patients who exercise regularly without issues. It can, however, trigger carcinoid syndrome if you overdo it – it is, however, like eating, a very individual thing. I take the view that ‘zero’ exercise might potentially be an even higher risk. Even a walk around the garden or gardening is exercise. When I was at work, I would walk to see people rather than phone them. Sometimes I walk to town rather than drive, it all adds up! I have evidence from my own exercising regime proving in my case that exercise can reduce the knock-on effects of some of the other E’s (emotions and eating) and/or the side effects of treatment – check out my blog entitled Exercise is Medicine. Those who are syndromic and/or have other conditions to manage are probably best to take medical advice on how much exercise they need to do.
Ethanol (alcohol, liquor):Many NET patients have difficulty tolerating wine, beer and spirits (hard liquor). I was never a big drinker so for me it was easy to go almost teetotal. I do have the occasional beer but very infrequently and normally on holiday – I personally don’t get any issues with the odd beer but again this is trial and error. I really enjoy my beer when I celebrate my ‘Cancerversaries‘. Also check out my blog Alcohol – the NET Effect
I’m sure there could be a 5 A’s to 5 Z’s list of things to avoid but as I said above, this needs to be balanced with what the actual risks for you are and if you’re like me, quality of life. If you read most Facebook closed group or forums, you will always find at least one person is affected by something which affects no-one else. Please note this article is just my own appreciation of these issues and I emphasise once again that everyone has different experiences. I do, however, think it’s important to consider any secondary illnesses, effects of surgery and biochemistry results (or indeed a combination of one or more of these factors). Everything in life involves some kind of risk management and if you are totally risk averse, then you are unlikely to have much of a life (or a diet!).
It’s not easy but my daily diary helps me assess trends and work out what things upset me more than others – I can then reduce or eliminate. You need to tailor your own advice perhaps with the help of a doctor and/or dietician versed in NET Cancer. I also have some related posts on the subject of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, malabsorption and probiotics – check them out as the problems associated with these subjects could potentially look like a worsening of carcinoid syndrome and lead to unnecessary worry and unnecessary treatment.
For most, Carcinoid Syndrome can normally be controlled by the use of debulking surgery and/or somatostatin analogues (Octreotide/Lanreotide). However, there is a new drug called ‘Teloristat Ethyl’ (XERMELO) which looks like it may provide supplementary treatment for patients whose carcinoid syndrome diarrhea is not adequately controlled by somatostatin analogues. It’s an expensive drug and comes with side effects so you need to be sure it’s your syndrome causing the problem before you commit to a prescription.
We all know that Neuroendocrine Tumours (NETs) and their syndromes are complex but there is even more complexity to be found in a group of related disorders known as Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN). I recommend all NET patients should try to understand the basics of MEN and vice versa, particularly as both conditions seem to come with a plethora of endocrine related effects.
MEN patients will normally have a tumour in at least two endocrine glands – thus the terms ‘Multiple’ and ‘Endocrine’ (tumours can also develop in other organs and tissues). Neoplasia is just another name for tumour and these can be non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant) with the potential to metastasize.
MEN syndromes can comprise varying combinations of tumours and many will be aware of the tumour risks from family knowledge. So putting the heredity aspects to one side, it’s potentially an extremely challenging surveillance and subsequent diagnostic scenario if (and when) these risks are realised. To add to the complexity, some of the associated tumours can be sporadic (non hereditary) classic Neuroendocrine Tumours in various locations.
MEN is actually an umbrella term for a number of types (syndromes) of the disease – MEN1, MEN2a and 2b (2b was formerly MEN3). There’s a new kid on the block called MEN4 which is extremely rare.
In the most basic of terms regarding the relationship with tumours:
MEN1 seems to be centred on tumours of the parathyroid glands, the pituitary gland, and the pancreas (the 3 P’s).
MEN2a mainly focuses on medullary thyroid carcinoma, pheochromocytoma, parathyroid hyperplasia or adenomas (causing hyperparathyroidism), and occasionally cutaneous lichen amyloidosis.
MEN2b medullary thyroid carcinoma, pheochromocytoma, multiple mucosal neuromas and intestinal ganglioneuromas, and often a marfanoid habitus and other skeletal abnormalities.
MEN4 – A relatively new MEN variant and related to the CDKN1B gene, similar to MEN1 but normally only 2 of the 3 Ps, parathyroid and pituitary. Also referred to as MENX Possible association with tumors of the adrenals, kidneys, and reproductive organs.
What is particularly distinctive with MEN is that they are inherited disorders (familial). That means that they can be passed down in families, with each child of an affected parent having a 1 in 2 or 50% risk of inheritance. Consequently genetic screening/testing is normally undertaken in established MEN families and those at risk of MEN.
You may also have heard of other rare NETs with a familial aspect, in particular Pheochromocytomas (adrenal gland tumours) and Paragangliomas (outside the adrenal gland), Not all are inherited and I mention them because of the connection with MEN2a and 2b.
I’m grateful to my friend and MEN patient Linda Hageman for supporting my blog activities and also for allowing me to join the AMEN support group to learn more. This is one of the friendliest and well run support groups I’ve seen. On this site, you will find Dr Mark Lewis, an Oncologist and MEN patient who supports Linda (who is a Nurse) with a ‘Ask the Doctor’ section on their website.
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.
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:
Calcium channel blockers
Öberg, Grosssman, et al list the following foods that can cause flushes:
Öberg, Grosssman, et al also list the following neurologic disorders that can cause flushes:
Spinal cord lesions
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.
As of 4 Nov 15, PRRT was delisted from the NHS England Cancer Drugs Fund. Appeals were made but were rejected, despite the glowing results from the NETTER-1 trial. Although a replacement system is now in place, PRRT remains barred from routine NHS use.
Please see the following post for the very latest on PRRT worldwide – CLICK HERE
I was extremely disappointed to learn of the decision to remove PRRT (Lutetium or Yttrium) from the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) as reported by the NET Patient Foundation. You can read the detail of the decision here: CDF Statement. PRRT has regularly been described by NET specialists and patients as the “magic bullet” due to its potential to shrink or kill tumours.
This is the second Neuroendocrine Cancer treatment to be withdrawn this year, after the earlier decision on Everolimus (Afinitor) in April . In fact, the recent cuts to the CDF were described in the media as a “massacre” as the list was reduced by two-thirds. You can see the current CDF list by clicking here.
The timing of these cuts is extraordinary and when you look at the output from recent trial reports presented at the Europetwo-thirdsCongress (ECC) for both Neuroendocrine Cancer related drugs recently cut:
The RADIANT-4 trial said that Everolimus had a significant effect in non-functional NETs which are very difficult to treat. This is particularly important for Lung NETs as no treatment currently exists. The RADIANT-2 trial had already proven the efficacy of the drug for advanced carcinoid (in conjunction with Octreotide) and the RADIANT-3 trial proved good data for treatment with advanced functional pNETs. Read the report here.
PRRT – 177Lu-DOTATATE
The ECC also reported a significant finding from the NETTER-1 trial. Treatment with the novel peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT) Lutathera significantly increased progression-free survival (PFS) over Octreotide LAR (Sandostatin) in patients with advanced midgut NETs. It shows a PFS that has never been shown before in this type of cancer adding that this was significant because these patients have a real unmet medical need.
Lutathera is a 177Lu-DOTATATE PRRT that targets somatostatin receptors, which are overexpressed in about 80% of NETs, to deliver cytotoxic radiation directly to the tumor – See more by clicking here.
To fully understand the background to the problem, you need to understand both PRRT and the Cancer Drugs Fund and a quick primer on both follows.
Peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT) is a molecular therapy (also called radioisotope therapy) used to treat a specific type of cancer called neuroendocrine carcinoma or NETs (neuroendocrine tumors). PRRT is also currently being investigated as a treatment for prostate and pancreatic tumors.
In PRRT, a cell-targeting protein (or peptide) called octreotide is combined with a small amount of radioactive material, or radionuclide, creating a special type of radiopharmaceutical called a radiopeptide. When injected into the patient’s bloodstream, this radiopeptide travels to and binds to neuroendocrine tumor cells, delivering a high dose of radiation to the cancer.
The cells in most neuroendocrine tumors have an abundance (called an overexpression) of a specific type of surface receptor—a protein that extends from the cell’s surface—that binds to a hormone in the body called somatostatin. Octreotide is a laboratory-made version of this hormone that binds to somatostatin receptors on neuroendocrine tumors. In PRRT, octreotide is combined with a therapeutic dose of the radionuclides. Yttrium 90 (Y-90) and Lutetium 177 (Lu-177) are the most commonly used radionuclides.
What conditions are treated with PRRT?
PRRT may be used to treat NETs, including carcinoids, islet cell carcinoma of the pancreas, small cell carcinoma of the lung, pheochromocytoma (a rare tumor that forms in the adrenal glands), gastro-enteropancreatic (stomach, intestines and pancreas) neuroendocrine tumors, and rare thyroid cancers that are unresponsive to treatment with radioiodine.
PRRT is an option for patients: • who have advanced and/or progressive neuroendocrine tumours • who are not candidates for surgery • whose symptoms do not respond to other medical therapies.
The main goals of PRRT are to provide symptom relief, to stop or slow tumor progression and to improve overall survival.
These video’s on Nuclear Medicine are by Professor Val Lewington – the UK’s most experienced person on PRRT. I was at this presentation and she is absolutely amazing. It’s slightly dated but still very current. This presentation also covers Octreotide and Gallium 68 scans under the heading of Nuclear Medicine – if you are still unsure about PRRT or Nuclear Medicine in general, these videos are definitely worth a watch.
This is also a great source of information maintained by NET Patients in the USA. Click here
What was the Cancer Drugs Fund?
The Cancer Drugs Fund was money the UK Government has set aside to pay for cancer drugs that haven’t been approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and aren’t available within the NHS in England. This may be because the drugs haven’t been looked at yet. Or it may be because NICE have said that they don’t work well enough or are not cost-effective. This was introduced as a ‘political statement’ by the then Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government in 2010/11. The aim of the fund is to make it easier for people to get as much treatment as possible.
The Cancer Drugs Fund was for people who live in England. The governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland decide on how they spend money on health and so far haven’t decided to have a similar programme.
Worth noting that on 1 April 2013, NHS England took on responsibility for the operational management of the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF). The NHS spends approximately £1.3 billion annually on the provision of cancer drugs within routine commissioning. The CDF was established as an additional funding source to this.
There was a national list of drugs available through the fund – you may have heard this called the priority list. If you met the conditions for a drug that was on the list, you should have been able to have it on the NHS if you live in England. The Fund would also have considered applications on behalf of individual patients for other drugs that are not on the list. However, under the new system, Individual funding requests (IFRs) relating to cancer drugs will no longer be considered via the CDF process. All IFRs relating to cancer drugs will now be considered using NHS England’s single, national IFR system, which was updated in January 2016.
The new system came info force on 29 July 2016 and you can read more if you click this link
Although the decision is shocking to most, it was not totally unexpected as the Government and NHS have been hinting for sometime that the costs of the fund need to be reined in. In any case if was only ever a temporary arrangement until a another model could be put into place. There is a political element as the fund was set up by David Cameron with healthcare experts suggesting that it made no sense as a response to rising drug prices. Moreover, by topping up the fund, the same experts claimed this was making the manufacturers the real beneficiaries of the fund as they have been able to sell their drugs to the NHS at prices that are unaffordable (and therefore unsustainable) for the NHS.
UK NET patients who have advanced and/or progressive neuroendocrine tumours which cannot be removed by surgery and whose symptoms do not respond to other medical therapies, still need help.
Ironically, the UK seems to be intent on cutting provision of the treatment (at least for NHS patients) as the US is trying very hard to formally introduce it. This is a disgraceful situation and advanced Neuroendocrine Cancer patients and those who may need this treatment in the future are being terribly let down.
I will keep this blog ‘live’ in order to add information as things progress.
One of the curious things about Neuroendocrine Cancer (NETs going forward) is that it can very often exhibit one or more vague symptoms collectively known as a ‘syndrome’. Syndrome is an apt word to describe these complications as the most general meaning in medical terms is a group of symptoms that together are characteristic of a specific disorder or disease”. Having a syndrome can often be the difference between having a ‘functional’ condition or a non-functional’ condition – see more below.
This frequently makes Neuroendocrine Cancer very difficult to diagnose quickly. It’s a very devious disease.
It’s not all about Carcinoid Syndrome!
Most people think of Carcinoid Syndrome when they discuss NETs. Anyone suggesting that all NET patients get carcinoid syndrome or that all symptoms of NETs are caused by carcinoid syndrome, is WAY off the mark. Firstly, not everyone will have a ‘syndrome’ in addition to their tumours – the percentage is actually well below 50%. Secondly, there are in actual fact, several associated syndromes depending on the anatomical location and type of NET. As an example of one syndrome, statistics vary from source to source but it is estimated that around a 30-45% of all ‘midgut’ patients will present with metastatic disease and around a third of those (∼10-15% of all midgut) will exhibit Carcinoid Syndrome indicating their tumours are ‘functional’ (secreting excess hormones, particularly serotonin). It follows that Carcinoid Syndrome itself is not that common and it could be the same with other types of NET (even though it can appear more prevalent on forums).
Functional / Non-Functional
These tumours and associated syndromes are treatable for most but the difficult part can be arriving at a diagnosis. Moreover, without a syndrome, some of these tumours can be silently growing and as they grow slowly, the ‘silence’ can go on for some years. Even with a syndrome, the root cause can remain disguised as the symptoms are similar to many day-to-day illnesses, again the reason for the title of this blog. Curiously, the lack of a syndrome can sometimes lead to an even later presentation and the consequences that arise (i.e. no signs to aid a diagnosis). In fact a large proportion of Pancreatic NETs are non-functional at diagnosis. There can be the odd exception but in general terms, NETs are either functional (with a syndrome) or non-functional (no syndrome). It’s also possible that patients can move from one state to another.
It’s useful to know about the range of tumor markers and hormone markers – read more here
Syndrome and Tumors – ‘Chicken or Egg’ ?
I’m always confused when someone says they have been diagnosed with a Syndrome rather than a NET type. You normally need a tumor to produce the symptoms of a syndrome.
The exception might be hereditary syndromes e.g. MEN. MEN syndromes are genetic conditions. This means that the cancer risk and other features of MEN can be passed from generation to generation in a family. A mutation (alteration) in the various MEN genes gives a person an increased risk of developing endocrine/neuroendocrine tumors and other symptoms of MEN. It’s also possible that the tumors will be discovered first. It’s complex!
Major NET Syndromes
(information mainly taken from the ISI Book on NETs with a cross-reference from ENETS and UKINETS Guidelines)
TheISI Book on Neuroendocrine Tumors 2016(Woltering et al) confirms there are a number of syndromes associated directly and indirectly with NETs and are described as individual syndromes according to their secretory hormones and peptides. The reference publication expands on this list to aid diagnoses by including common presentations, associated tumour types and locations and the offending secreting hormones. You can see why Neuroendocrine Cancer is a diagnostic challenge!
Carcinoid – a syndrome connected with (mainly) serotonin secreting tumours in certain locations (mainly small intestine, lung, stomach, appendix, rectum). The key symptoms include diarrhoea, flushing of the skin (particularly the face), stomach cramping, heart problems such as palpitations, and wheezing. The syndrome is actually caused by the release of a number of hormones, in particular Serotonin, Bradykinin, Tachykinin (Substance P), Histamine, and Prostaglandins.
(there’s also a very rare instance of pancreatic based tumours producing carcinoid syndrome effects – according to ENETs less than 1% of all tumours associated with carcinoid syndrome)
Whipple’s Triad – Whipple’s Triad is the classic description of insulinoma which includes symptoms of hypoglycemia with a low blood glucose concentration relieved by the ingestion of glucose. These tumours can be located anywhere within the pancreas in the cells that make insulin. Insulin is a hormone that controls the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. It moves glucose into the cells, where it can be used by the body for energy. Insulinomas are usually slow-growing tumors that rarely spread. Some of these tumours will be associated with MEN1 syndrome.
Zollinger-Ellinson Syndrome. A tumour that forms in cells that make gastrin and can be known as a Gastrinoma. Gastrin is a hormone that causes the stomach to release an acid that helps digest food. Both gastrin and stomach acid are increased by gastrinomas. This is a condition in which one or more tumours form in the pancreas, the upper part of the duodenum or the stomach (these organs are very close and tightly packed together). These tumours secrete large amounts of the hormone gastrin, which causes your stomach to produce too much acid. The excess acid can lead to peptic ulcers, in addition to diarrhea and other symptoms. Associated with Gastrinoma (pNET) and Gastric NETs. Some of these tumours may be associated with MEN1 syndrome.
Werner-Morrison Syndrome. Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide (VIP) is secreted thus the pNET term – VIPoma – Sometimes the syndrome is referred as WDHA – Watery Diarrhea, Hypokalemia (potassium deficiency), and Achlorhydria (absence of hydrochloric acid in gastric secretions). Sometimes known as Pancreatic Cholera. Some of these tumours may be associated with MEN1 syndrome
Glucagonoma. A tumour that forms in cells that make make glucagon. Glucagon is a hormone that increases the amount of glucose in the blood. It causes the liver to break down glycogen. Too much glucagon causes hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) rendering most patients diabetic. A glucagonoma usually forms in the tail of the pancreas. Some of these tumours may be associated with MEN1 syndrome. See also Sweet’s Syndrome below. Sometimes known as the 4D syndrome – Dermatological, Diabetes, DVT, Depression.
Somatostatinomais a very rare type of NET, with an incidence of one in 40 million persons. These tumours produce excess somatostatin arise from the delta cells in the pancreas, although these cells can also be present in duodenal/jejunum tissue where around 44% of these tumours occur. Somatostatin is a naturally occurring peptide that inhibits the function of almost all gut hormones (author’s note – this fact should give you an appreciation of how somatostatin analogues tackle associated syndromes whilst giving you certain side effects as a result!)
Pancreatic Polypeptide (PP) – PPoma. A complicated one and not too much information (even in the ISI book or ENETS Guidelines). However, it’s the third most common type of islet cell tumour (i.e. pNET). The function of pancreatic polypeptide is not completely understood. Patients present with weight loss, jaundice, and abdominal pain. The diagnosis is confirmed by pancreatic polypeptide levels > 300 pg/ml. Some of these tumours may be associated with MEN1 syndrome.
Cushing’s – also known as hypercortisolism. A collection of symptoms caused by very high levels of a hormone called cortisol in the body. In Cushing’s disease, oversecretion of pituitary ACTH induces bilateral adrenal hyperplasia. This results in excess production of cortisol, adrenal androgens, and 11-deoxycorticosterone. Cushing’s disease, a subset of Cushing’s syndrome, is due to a pituitary corticotroph adenoma and results in a partial resistance to the suppression of ACTH by cortisol so that secretion is unrestrained. In contrast, causes of Cushing’s syndrome may include the following:
• Adrenal adenoma or carcinoma arise spontaneously. ACTH levels are undetectable.
• Non-pituitary (ectopic) tumours produce ACTH. They most frequently originate in the thorax and are highly aggressive small cell carcinomas of the lung or slow- growing bronchial or thymic carcinoid tumours. Some produce corticotropin- releasing hormone (CRH) instead, which stimulates pituitary ACTH secretion and can therefore mimic a pituitary tumour.
• Other causes include NETs of the gastric, pancreatic, and intestinal organs; Pheochromocytomas, and MCT.
The hallmark of Cushing’s syndrome is that ACTH levels are partially resistant to suppression with dexamethasone, even at very high doses. Some MEN patients with pituitary tumours may have Cushing’s Syndrome. AdrenoCorticoTropic Hormone (ACTH) releasing tumours are somerimes known as ACTHoma.
Sweet’s – Dermatitis/rash associated with Glucagonomas. Not to be confused with Pellagra (B3 deficiency)
Neuroendocrine / Endocrine tumors can be seen in several inherited familial syndromes, including but not limited to:
MEN1 – Mainly involved the 3 Ps, Pituitary, Pancreas and Parathyroid. The pituitary tumours are primarily Prolactinomas, the pancreatic tumours are mainly PPomas, Gastrinomas and Insulinoma. Many also have association with Zollinger-Ellinson syndrome (ZES). Sometimes known as Wermer Syndrome. Associated with the MEN1 gene.
MEN2A– associated with the RET gene, can result in Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma, Pheochromocytoma, and overactive parathyroid glands characterised by a high calcium level.
MEN2B. An inherited disorder characterised by the certain development of Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma, plus the possible development of pheochromocytomas and characteristic tumours (mucosal neuromas) of the lips, tongue and bowels. Parathyroid disease is extremely rare in MEN2B. Also connected with the RET gene.
MEN4. A relatively new MEN variant and related to the CDKN1B gene. Similar to MEN1 but normally only 2 of the 3 Ps, parathyroid and pituitary; and potentially other places.
Succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) is an enzyme which is important for the metabolic function of mitochondria. Patients with mutations of these genes have increased risk of pheochromocytomas, paragangliomas, stomach tumors and kidney tumors.
SDHx mutations (SDHA, SDHB, SDHC, and SDHD) can present as Pheochromocytomas/Paragangliomas and other non-NET conditions. If this interests you see site http://www.SDHcancer.org
Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) – not an exclusively NET syndrome. VHL is a rare disorder caused by a faulty gene. It is named after the two doctors who first described the disease, and affects about one in 35,000 people. Tumours develop in one or more parts of the body. Many of these tumours involve the abnormal growth of blood vessels in parts of the body which are particularly rich in blood vessels. Areas most frequently affected are the eyes, the back of the brain (cerebellum), the spinal cord, the kidneys, the adrenal glands and the pancreas. People are affected differently, even within the same family. The only VHL tumour which tends to run in families affects the adrenal glands (Pheochromocytoma). Different VHL features tend to develop at different ages. The eye angiomas often develop in childhood. Others, including tumours found in the cerebellum, spinal cord or adrenal glands (Haemangioblastomas and Pheochromocytomas) can develop from late childhood onwards. The kidney tumours are usually the last things that develop, from the mid-twenties onwards. Most VHL related tumours are benign.
As for my own experience of syndromes, I did once show symptoms of the most common NET syndrome (currently known as Carcinoid syndrome) where the key symptoms include diarrhoea, flushing of the skin (particularly the face), stomach cramping, heart problems such as palpitations, and wheezing. You can see why those symptoms are frequently and easily confused with other conditions. If you have a similar diagnosis, you may benefit from looking at something known as The 5 E’swhich is a useful list of things to be wary of.
I did have issues for a year or two in 2010 leading up to diagnosis and until my treatment was underway. I was experiencing flushing and infrequent bouts of diarrhea but I totally ignored it (hear me talk about this). However, it ended up being instrumental in my diagnosis albeit some good luck was involved in getting to that point. My twist of fate which involved a low hemoglobin score led me to a scan and ‘bingo’. I had a ‘gastrointestinal blip’ some 18 months previously but that proved colonoscopy negative. Despite my distant and metastatic tumour disposition and seemingly late diagnosis, I’m current non-syndromic due to “early” intervention and good treatment. However, my ongoing treatment continues to play its part.
For many,the vague and routine symptoms generated by a syndrome contribute to the fact that NET Cancer is frequently misdiagnosed with some people suffering from the side effects for many years before a correct diagnosis is made.
There are many other less known syndromes that appear to be directly or indirectly connected with Neuroendocrine Tumours and I may update this post if I discover they are more prevalent than I think. Please let me know if you’ve been told you have a NET related syndrome not listed.
There’s a constant debate regarding the validity of the term ‘Carcinoid‘. I’ve posted about this a few times and as far as I know, the debate has been raging for some years.
You may have noticed that ‘Carcinoid’ is often used as a standalone word and tends not to be suffixed with the word ‘Cancer’ or ‘Tumour’ – unlike Bowel Cancer, Breast Cancer, Prostrate Cancer, Lung Cancer, Brain Tumour, etc. Nobody goes around saying “Breast” or “Bowel” do they? But they happily say “Carcinoid”. Unfortunately, the term ‘Carcinoid’ has become entrenched in both pathology and clinical literature over the past 100 years. The main problem with the word Carcinoid is that it means different things to different people. Some use the term almost exclusively to designate serotonin-producing tumours that arise from the enterochromaffin cells that can result in carcinoid syndrome i.e. most commonly in the appendix, small intestine, stomach, lung, rectum and uncommonly in other places. Some use it to (incorrectly) refer to all Neuroendocrine Tumours. The most worrying connotation of the use of the word ‘Carcinoid’ is the belief that they all have benign clinical and biological behaviour. That is dangerous thinking and has the potential to kill people. Fortunately, NET specialists are starting to move away from using the word – check out the quote below:
The following history of ‘Carcinoid’ is well documented: Siegfried Oberndorfer (1876-1944) became the first to adequately characterise the nature of Carcinoid tumours and refer to them as “benign carcinomas.” During his tenure at the Pathological Institute of the University of Munich, Oberndorfer noted in 1907 that the lesions were distinct clinical entities and named them “karzinoide” (“carcinoma-like“), emphasizing in particular their benign features. However, In 1929 he amended his classification to include the possibility that these small tumours could be malignant and also metastasise. (Author’s note – a name change would have been handy at this point).
100 years later
NANETS, UKINETS and ENETS seem to defer to the WHO classification nomenclature and it is here another term is introduced – Neuroendocrine Neoplasms (NENs). NANETs state that “all of the entities under discussion are neoplastic, and neoplasm is therefore a more accurate term than tumor, which means only a mass“. These organisations tend to use the term Neoplasm as a catch-all for all Neuroendocrine disease and then the term ‘tumor’ and ‘carcinoma’ applies to well and poorly differentiated respectively. It’s worth noting that since 2010, the WHO 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. Neuroendocrine Carcinoma is malignant by defintion. All of this has been reinforced in the 2017 publication. The term ‘Carcinoid’ is conspicuously missing from these texts.
To put it simply – the term ‘carcinoid’ is no longer credible
Due to its historical meaning, Carcinoid does not adequately convey the potential for malignant behaviour that accompanies many of these neoplasms as described above. The term Carcinoid decodes to ‘Carcinoma like’. Contextually “Carcinoid Cancer” decodes to “carcinoma like cancer” which is, of course, totally misleading and its use simply perpetuates the claim by some that it is ‘not a proper cancer’. If we only needed one reason to ditch the word ‘Carcinoid’, this would be it.
I mentioned confusion above and this has led to a hybrid effect of naming the condition. For example, there is a tendency by some (including medical establishments and patient organisations) to use the term ‘Carcinoid’ and ‘Neuroendocrine Tumors’ interchangeably which is patently incorrect. Neither is it helpful that many patients and organisations continue to refer to this disease as “Carcinoid Neuroendocrine Tumor”, “Neuroendocrine Carcinoid Tumor”, “Neuroendocrine Carcinoid Cancer”, “Carcinoid/Neuroendocrine”, “CNET”; and many other variations along these lines. Many seemingly credible organisations will say “Carcinoid and Neuroendocrine Tumors” not realising it’s a contradiction in terms. Continued use of the term in any phrase or standalone context is not doing our case for recognition any good – it’s bad enough that some seem to cling to outdated and invalid diagnostic clichés and icons from the 1980s. All of it needs to go.
I know I’m not alone in this thinking given the decrease of its use in the NET world, including NET Specialists (see lead graphic) and NET Specialist organisations (some have changed their names). There’s an interesting article written by a NET specialist where the term ‘carcinoid’ is described as “unfortunate”, “misleading”, “outmoded”, “archaic”, “confusing” and “misnomer”. Exactly! In the recent SEER NET study, a NET specialist reaffirmed this thinking by stating that “the belief these tumors did not metastasize, did not reach any great size, and appeared harmless, has since been proven false”. Continued use of the term ‘Carcinoid’ has the potential to regress this thinking. We must not let this happen.