I once wrote a post about patient stories, in particular the ones I receive in my private messages. The headline was “The shock effect never wears off“. But none have been more shocking than the one I received 2 weeks ago.
This is a story about someone who is a private person but felt the need to reach out to me about their diagnostic experience. This person wanted to talk about it, but in private and I was happy to listen. I was so moved by this story, I persuaded this person to let me tell it here whilst retaining their anonymity. Hence referral going forward as ‘Patient E’. I just felt that someone somewhere might learn something very important.
The Story of ‘Patient E’
In December 2018, Patient E was told ‘Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer’ and had 10 months to live. Chemo was to be attempted in January in an effort to extend life but in the meantime was told to spend Christmas for the last time with the family, a spouse and 3 young children. On 2nd January, Patient E was then told (with apologies) it was actually a ‘Neuroendocrine Tumour with a pancreatic primary’. The only good thing about this story so far, is that they told the children nothing over Christmas. “Why worry happy little people” was the bit of the story which brought out my tears.
Initially I was quite angry this could happen to anyone but I was then calmed by Patient E who now had fresh hope and optimism, perhaps realising that there were possibilities for many more years with the family.
So why do these things happen? Apart from the serious communications lapse by the hospital, this is another example of the problems we as a community face with the anatomical approach many doctors take with cancer, with some even describing a pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumour as a type of Pancreatic Cancer (this happens with other parts of the anatomy too).
Patient E is not alone, I once wrote a story about rock star Wilko Johnson (of Dr Feelgood fame) who was given a very similar prognosis. However, Wilko was in the later stages of his life and decided instead of undergoing gruelling chemotherapy, he would forego any treatment and tour with his band in the final 12 months of his life and …….. make an album with Roger Daltrey of The Who. It wasn’t until someone enquired why he wasn’t dead after 12 months, that they re-checked and changed the diagnosis to Neuroendocrine Tumour with a pancreatic primary. Read the whole story here.
I wonder how many other times this has happened.
Neuroendocrine Tumours with a pancreatic primary (pNET) is a totally different cancer to Pancreatic Cancer. With Pancreatic Cancer, most people die, quite the opposite with pNETs where most people live. Read more about the main differences here.
I’m grateful to Patient E for contacting me to let me know that my blog and my other support sites have been helpful in the transition from despair to hope since finding out the correct diagnosis on 2nd January. I do hope Patient E will keep me updated.
I campaign hard for Neuroendocrine Cancer awareness including continually pointing out that a Neuroendocrine Cancer with a pancreatic primary is NOT Pancreatic Cancer as is often quoted in the press. The two main reasons I take up these campaigns are as follows:
1. They are totally different cancers despite an anatomical relationship. Although they share some similar presentation, they have different signs, different treatments and vastly different prognostic outcomes. What that means is that anyone who is looking for useful information on either needs to be very careful on interpretation, they could end up with very bad advice and in some situations, become more concerned than they should be (particularly with the prognostics). See more below.
2. These two different cancer types have different awareness organisations, patient support groups and patient leaders/advocates. In most cases, vastly different awareness messages. Both of these organisations and advocates need all the help they can get, they need all the resources and funding they can get.
Both Pancreatic Cancer and Neuroendocrine Cancer are diseases that need maximum publicity, both disease types have their own unique situations, thus why the awareness messages can be so vastly different. It’s really important, therefore, that publicity surrounding famous patients be attributed to the correct cancer type in order that the advocate organisations and supporters can gain maximum benefit to forward their causes. Unfortunately, thanks to doctors and media, this very often doesn’t work out in favour of Neuroendocrine Cancer due to the Human Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer (this problem actually goes beyond the pancreas).
Where the press and doctors regularly get it wrong
Two famous people in particular, one in 2011 and the other this year, are regularly reported in the press as having died of Pancreatic Cancer.
Steve Jobs. One of the most famous technical innovators of his time and creator of the most valuable company in the world. He had a Neuroendocrine Cancer with a pancreatic primary. Read his story here.
Aretha Franklin. One of the most famous soul singers of her time. She had a Neuroendocrine Cancer with a pancreatic primary. Read her story here.
For me, one of the two main differences are the cell type. When people talk about Pancreatic Cancer, they really mean something known as “Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma”. It starts in the exocrine cells, which produce enzymes to support digestion. Neuroendocrine Tumors start in the endocrine cells which produce hormones.
For me, the other big difference is prognostics. Unfortunately, it is statistically proven that most people with Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma will die, whereas most people with Neuroendocrine Tumors with a pancreatic primary will live.
For a more detailed comparison, see this excellent article from NET Research Foundation.
Pancreatic Cancer – Why I support their campaigns
Personally speaking, as a healthcare advocate online, I do support many cancer awareness campaigns, I think this is important to get similar help coming the other way (this frequently works for me). However, I very much suspect, other than Neuroendocrine Cancer, my biggest support area online is for Pancreatic Cancer. I’m drawn by their excellent campaigns where they focus on key messages of prognostics for what is essentially a silent disease (in many ways the same issue with Neuroendocrine Cancer) and they make these more compelling by focusing on people rather than gimmicks. The prognostics can be upsetting reading as they are quite shocking figures which have not changed much in the past 40 years, a key sign that more must be done for this awful disease. I frequently share this symptom graphic below because it might save a life and I ask that you do too.
On 16th AUG 2018, Publicist Gwendolyn Quinn tells The Associated Press through a family statement that Franklin passed at her home in Detroit. The statement said “Franklin’s official cause of death was due to advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin’s oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute” in Detroit.
There are huge differences between Pancreatic Cancer and Neuroendocrine Cancer with a pancreatic primary – click here to read more.
Clearly he meant Neuroendocrine Cancer with a pancreatic primary. However, in the fast moving social media world, this is what has gone out with the lazier writers and editors abbreviating it to just Pancreatic Cancer, perhaps because they didn’t see the relevance of the word Neuroendocrine or they didn’t want to confuse the issue. All of these incorrect posts will now be embedded in the bowels of the internet and used for years to come by those writing about the Queen of Soul. We in the Neuroendocrine community now have a much harder task because the press releases and her doctor did not articulate the type of disease correctly. The same thing happened in 2011 with Steve Jobs. It is considerably frustrating for the Neuroendocrine Cancer community.
However, a celebrity news outlet called TMZ has managed to obtain and publish a copy of her death certificate – you can read their article and see the death certificate by clicking here. It clearly states “Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Cancer”. This is a contextually significant statement compared to the version of the original cause of death given by her physician and which went viral on the internet inferring that it was Pancreatic Cancer. Annoyingly, even though they managed to obtain a copy of the certificate, their headline still said Pancreatic Cancer (read the TMZ article here) – please feel free to comment on their site or email the TMZ contact here – email@example.com
I commented as follows: Wrong headline. The certificate clearly states pancreatic “Neuroendocrine Cancer” – a totally different type of cancer, different symptoms, different prognostics, different treatment, different problems. Huge error. Will you be updating it?
They did not update it.
Interestingly the press have been saying Pancreatic Cancer since 2010 despite Aretha keeping her condition private, However, she came out in 2011 by releasing a statementsaying she didn’t understand where ‘Pancreatic Cancer’ came from.
I suspect she knew then it was Neuroendocrine Cancer, obviously from the fact that her doctor told her the surgery would give her another 15-20 years of life – that is certainly not a prognosis you would get with Pancreatic Cancer.
A summary of her cancer experience since 2010 can be found here – not too detailed but useful background. She had major surgery on December 2nd 2010 (sounds like Whipples?). She wasn’t in good health at diagnosis, with media reports of years of chain smoking, alcoholism, obesity and crash-dieting. She was also diabetic for some year prior to cancer diagnosis.
In one of the better articles from Forbes, they actually stated some words which resonate with the Neuroendocrine Cancer community (see graphic below) – however, the remainder of the article then goes onto to talk about Pancreatic Cancer and not Neuroendocrine Cancer so we lost a massive awareness activity due to the fixation and assumptions with anatomy.
THE HUMAN ANATOMY PROBLEM WITH NEUROENDOCRINE CANCER STRIKES AGAIN. Read about other errors with celebrities by clicking here.
The Human Anatomy vs cancer type even confuses so called respectable and authoritative cancer organisations. Big hitter organisations such as the American Cancer Society and the US National Cancer Institute fail to list an A to Z list of cancer with Neuroendocrine Tumors / Neoplasms / Cancer / Carcinoma under the letter ‘N’. Instead you can find Gastrointestinal Carcinoid (a term now at least 8 years out of date) and pancreatic and lung NETs under Pancreatic Cancer and Lung Cancer respectively, I’m sure there are other issues. I have contacted these organisations in the past and hinted there should be a standalone and grouped entry under ‘N’ but this has been totally ignored to date. While many news outlets have reacted to the rather flimsy and misleading statement coming from the family quoting Aretha’s physician’s words “Pancreatic Cancer of the neuroendocrine type”, medical writers will also take to the internet to research and will find the two ‘big hitter’ websites above and bingo. To a certain extent I see these issues more in USA than in any other country.
But in the meantime, please note that at least one big cancer organisation looking for changes to the way they display information on NETs as a result of Aretha (read it here) and some credit is due to Chris Nashville Lozina who many of you may know. However, action speaks louder than words and I will be monitoring their website to see if they actually make the changes they used to jump on the Aretha bandwagon. It should not be left to patients to do the running here – US NET patient advocate organisations must do more and must do it publicly.
The physician who quoted the cause of death which then went viral on the internet didn’t really do Neuroendocrine Cancer any favours – although we should credit him for leaving the word Neuroendocrine in there. That said, many lazy article writers and media have omitted the word not realising the significance of its meaning, not realising they were then quoting a totally different cancer. Interestingly her death certificated stated PANCREATIC NEUROENDOCRINE CANCER – that would have been a much better press release.
Some patients are suggesting she has “Carcinoid” but not only is that way off beam, it’s using a term which has been abandoned and is not really good PR for us. In some ways, the ‘C word’ is causing these issues as many physicians make a demarcation line between ‘carcinoid’ and other types of NET associated with one part of the anatomy.
We must stop saying that Neuroendocrine Cancer with a pancreatic primary is a type of Pancreatic Cancer. I think everyone agrees they are different but the KEY POINT is saying or not saying they are a type of Pancreatic Cancer. Saying they are a type of Pancreatic Cancer is not only playing into the hands of Pancreatic Cancer organisations who want to claim the famous icons and their potential fundraising opportunities, but potentially a betrayal of Neuroendocrine Cancer awareness. Only my view though of course.
I will update this article as new information comes out n due course but in the meantime please share using “Neuroendocrine Cancer” as there is much misinformation being spread
Researchers are testing the drug Sapanisertib to see if it can halt the progression of pancreatic NETs (pNETs) which cannot be surgically removed, have not responded to other treatment, and have spread to other parts of the body.
What is Sapanisertib?
Sapanisertib is one of a group of targeted therapy drugs that interferes with tumor progression by inhibiting an enzyme known as mTOR which a tumor cell needs for growth. In fact this is the same technique used in Afinitor (Everolimus), already approved for NETs.
It is also being tested in a number of different advanced cancers, including bladder, kidney, breast, liver, and certain types of lung cancers, among others.
The Clinical Trial
The primary goal of the phase II study is to evaluate how well pNET tumors respond to Sapanisertib. To qualify for this trial patients must have advanced pNET that cannot be surgically removed, and which have not responded to previous treatment with similar drugs. All participants will receive Sapanisertib, and will be checked periodically to see if their tumors are responding to the drug.
Choosing to participate in a study is an important personal decision. Talk with your doctor and family members or friends about deciding to join a study. To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the contacts provided at this link which provides more details about the Sapanisertib pNET trial – click here and check the inclusion and exclusion criteria; and other data. There are 354 study locations across the USA.
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.
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. Syndromes associated with these include Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN), Von Hippel Lindau (VHL), Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1), Tuberous Sclerosis (TS) and others. People who have a genetic condition may present with the tumors (perhaps along with an associated syndrome) and so the genetic condition if there is one, may not be known at this point.
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 I guess if you have 2 tumors found in (say) parathyroid and pancreas, it should at least raise a suspicion for MEN1.
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.
The authors focused on presentations of NETs of the gastrointestinal system, chromaffin cell tumours (Pheochromocytoma and Paraganglioma) and Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma. Pituitary tumors (normally associated with MEN1), were not considered in scope for the review. Interesting, the review includes news of a move by endocrinologists to reclassify ‘Pituitary Adenomas’ as Pituitary NETs (PitNETs). Read the abstract here. This would appear to be in line with a gradual shift from the benign nomenclature associated with certain NETs to the ‘malignant’ potential of these type of tumors. The abbreviation is also in line with others, e.g. pNET, SiNET, etc. A useful reminder that we must stop using the term ‘Carcinoid‘ as this is regressing this extremely useful initiative to highlight the malignant potential of all NETs.
There also appears to be some linkage to the study looking at the possibility of familial Small Intestine NETs (SiNETs). You can read more about a US registered trial here (with apologies for use of the now defunct term ‘Carcinoid‘).
This is a complex subject and the text above is very basic. If you wish to dig further, the quoted reference is a good read. Just to emphasise, it’s aim is to provide advice about when to recommend genetic testing for NETs, and in doing so provides some useful reference information. It’s broken down into 4 distinct tumor groupings:
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.
So what terms should we be using?
People and organisations will be out of date with modern Neuroendocrine Neoplasms nomenclature and some will still want to continue with their own nomenclature (….. and because of the confusion, some will fall into both categories not realising they’re out of date). Here’s a classic example of the problem we face – the American Cancer Society(ACS) does not even list Neuroendocrine Tumor as a cancer type. Instead you can find “Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors” and “Lung Carcinoid Tumor”. You’ll find Pancreatic NETs inside Pancreatic Cancer. Americans should harangue the ACS to get this right. I could go on with many similar observations on seemingly respectable sites. I intentionally used a US example as this country appears to be way behind in the changes to NET nomenclature, pretty surprising as they tend to be at the forefront of many other aspects in the world of NETs.
Personally, I think the acceptance of a common worldwide nomenclature should come from the World Health Organisation (WHO) classification for Neuroendocrine Neoplasms. They are divided into a number of chapters including ‘Endocrine Organs’, Digestive System, Lung Tumours….. and no doubt some others. Frustrating, but medical people tend to look at things in anatomical terms. Nonetheless, the agreed classification nomenclature for the whole group of Neuroendocrine Neoplasms can be found with some research and access to clinical publications. The correct nomenclature should then be flowed down in regional groupings, e.g. ENETS representing Europe, NANETS representing North America, etc. As I understand it, ENETS and UKINETS are already essentially aligned with WHO and NANETS appears to be. From these organisations, the use of the correct terminology should then rub off on patients, patient advocate organisations and general cancer sites. However, the biggest challenge will be with hospitals/medical centres, cancer registries and insurance companies whose medical record processing is run using reference data (think drop down selections and database structures). Easier said than done but ‘change’ always has to start somewhere. Technically it has started (albeit late) as the big NET medical organisations are already starting to reduce the use of outmoded words such as ‘carcinoid’.
I once argued that the term ‘carcinoid’ needed to be retained as it represented a histopathological grouping of a particular type of NET comprising mostly appendiceal, stomach (gastric), rectal, small intestine and lung NETs. However, reading through the ENETS 2016 guidance in conjunction with the most up to date WHO classification publications, I’ve changed my mind after noticing they no longer use the word ‘Carcinoid’ in relation to a tumor type. Rather, they use the latest WHO terms above and then use the anatomy to distinguish the different types of NET (like we already do for Pancreatic NET or pNET).
Perhaps patients can lead the way here ………
Rather than say:
‘Carcinoid’ or ‘Carcinoid Tumor’….. why not say Neuroendocrine Tumor or NET (adding your primary location if required – see below);
‘Carcinoid Cancer; ….. why not say Neuroendocrine Cancer;
‘Lung Carcinoid’ ….. why not say Lung NET (adding typical or atypical if required);
‘Small intestine Carcinoid’, why not say Small Intestine NET (or ‘SiNET which is becoming popular); p.s. I’m not a fan of ‘small bowel’ due to the potential for confusion with the widely used term ‘bowel cancer’);
‘Gastric Carcinoid’, why not say Gastric NET (adding your type if required);
‘Rectal Carcinoid’, why not say Rectal NET;
‘Appendiceal Carcinoid’, why not say Appendiceal NET;
…. and so on. And you can add your stage and grade/differentiation for a richer picture.
You can listen to a very well known NET Specialist say something similar in this videohere.
Worth noting that even ENETS and NANETS cannot agree on tumor type terminology – the latter uses Small Bowel NETs (SBNETs) whereas ENETS uses Small Intestine NENs (SiNENs). I did say it’s easier said than done.
As I said above, the term ‘Carcinoid’ has become entrenched in both pathology and clinical literature over the past 100 years so it will still appear in many texts and need to be searchable online to support medical and advocacy business. However, these are technical issues and I don’t therefore believe people need to use the terms to make them searchable online. I tag all my posts with ‘Carcinoid’ even if I don’t mention the word in my text. I have started only using the term for context when it is required and am currently reviewing all of my posts to ensure that is still the case.
Hang on…what about Carcinoid Syndrome
When someone wants to know which syndrome you have, you can’t just state (say) “small intestine syndrome” or “midgut syndrome”. ‘NET Syndrome’ doesn’t work either as there are several NET syndromes. This has led to the situation where people try to drop the word ‘carcinoid’ and just say “the syndrome” which is even more confusing! I accept this one is a difficult challenge but I don’t believe it’s insurmountable, just needs some willpower and agreement.
What about Carcinoid Heart Disease
Personally I don’t see why this cannot be renamed to ‘Neuroendocrine Heart Disease’ or its technical name – ‘Hedinger syndrome’.
What about Carcinoid Crisis
World renowned NET specialists already make statements that these issues can apply to all types of NET; and it’s well-known that a similar crisis situation already applies to other types e.g. Pheochromocytomas.I cannot see why something along the lines of ‘Neuroendocrine Crisis’ or ‘NET Crisis’ would not be acceptable.
We as patients are unlikely to be able to force changes on the medical and insurance communities but we can be a ‘force for change’ by setting the example of using a correct and more apt terminology to describe our disease.
Thanks for listening
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