Neuroendocrine Cancer – If you can see it, you can detect it!

Octreoscan vs Ga68 PET

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:

Conventional Imaging

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.

Ultrasound (US)


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

owl ga68
Graphic courtesy of Advanced Accelerator Applications

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.

Read more about Ga68 PET scans by clicking here

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 PET Imaging 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.


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).

Miscellaneous Scans

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 Sestsestamibiamibi 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

explorer pet scan

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:


If you can see it, you can detect it.


1. Imaging in neuroendocrine tumors: an update for the clinician, Maxwell, Howe,

2. Appropriate use Criteria for Somatostatin Receptor PET Imaging in Neuroendocrine Tumors,

3. Radiology for Patients,

4.  Useful video from NET Research Foundation about which scans to use for which job.  CLICK HERE to watch.

5.  Useful video summary from the NET Patient Foundation describing the different scans for NET Cancer and what to expect.  Worth a look.  CLICK HERE for the scan video

Sooner we can ALL get access to the latest radionuclide scans the better – this is currently an unmet need in many countries.

If you are any doubt about which type of scan is best for you and their availability, please consult your specialist.

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!

CLICK HERE for the scan video

Thanks for reading


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Neuroendocrine Cancer: Somatostatin Receptors

ct compare to g68 pet
CT and G68 PET fused showing somatostatin receptor pick up

Don’t understand Somatostatin Receptors?  Join the club!  I got my head around the term ‘Somatostatin’ and ‘Somatostatin Analogues’ some time ago but the term ‘Somatostatin Receptor’ (SSTR) is still a bit of a mystery and it’s come to the top of my list of things to study.  SSTRs do come up in conversation quite often and I’m fed up of nodding sagely hoping it will eventually become clear! On analysis it looks like a technical subject – and therefore a challenge 🙂

I’ve taken a logical approach working from ‘Somatostatin’ to ‘Somatostatin Analogue’ before commencing on the ‘receptor’ bit.  It is intentionally brief and (hopefully) simplistic!


It’s important to understand this hormone and then why your ‘butt dart’ is generically called a ‘Somatostatin Analogue’.

Some Neuroendocrine Tumours secrete hormones and peptides that cause distinct clinical syndromes, including amongst others, carcinoid syndrome.  Somatostatin is a naturally occurring hormone and a known inhibitor of some of these NET related hormones and peptides that can be over secreted and cause syndromes. For example, somatostatin from the hypothalamus inhibits the pituitary gland’s secretion of growth hormone (GH) and Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). In addition, somatostatin is produced in the pancreas and inhibits the secretion of other pancreatic hormones such as insulin and glucagon.  However, the naturally produced Somatostatin does not have the lifespan to have any effect on Neuroendocrine Tumours which are over secreting these hormones and peptides. ……. cue manufactured versions that can!

Somatostatin Analogue (SSA)

These are manufactured versions of Somatostatin known as Somatostatin Analogues.  These are designed to have a lasting effect to inhibit for much longer and therefore reduce the symptoms caused by the over secretion (i.e. the syndrome).  Examples of Somatostatin Analogue include Octreotide (Sandostatin), Lanreotide (Somatuline) and Pasireotide (Signifor).

So how do Somatostatin Analogues actually work? 

For the inhibition to work effectively, there needs to be a route into the over secreting tumours, normally via short or long acting injections or even intravenously. On the tumour cells, there are currently 5 known sub-types of ‘Somatostatin Receptors’  (SSTR) which are ‘expressed’ by most NETs.   These are known as SSTR1 through to SSTR5.  The naturally occurring hormone Somatostatin attempts to bind with all 5 but as above, it lacks the lifespan to make any impact to inhibit sufficiently in cases of overecretion. However, SSAs can overcome this with the longer lifespan.  They can successfully in most cases bind with these receptors to inhibit the hormones and peptides causing the problems, particularly SSTR2 with modest affinity to SSTR5. Clearly it’s therefore advantageous to target SSTR2.

Somatostatin Receptors

The subtypes expressed by NETs are variable and the efficiency of different SSAs in binding to each SSTR subtype also varies. For example the table below lists the variability of Somatostatin Receptor efficiency in different types of NET.  Interesting to note that non-functional NETs might not have efficient SSTRs but SSAs will still try to bind to them albeit it might not work or have a lesser effect.

Somatostatin receptors are found in high numbers on the surface of NET’s. Most receptors are in the inactive state (based on something called the phosphorylation status). Traditionally, agents such as dotatate have only bound to activated receptors on the surface.  Scientists are looking at ways to bind to inactive receptors to increase therapy success (for example see clinical trial OPS 201)

Table 1 – Somatostatin receptor subtypes in neuroendocrine tumours (mRNA) (See Copyright)

Tumour SSTR1 (%) SSTR2 (%) SSTR3 (%) SSTR4 (%) SSTR5 (%)
Gastrinoma 79a 93 36 61 93
Insulinoma 76 81 38 58 57
Non-functioning pancreatic tumour 58 88 42 48 50
Gastro-intestinal NET 76 80 43 68 77

This table above clearly shows the variability of SSTRs when binding with different types of NETs.  It follows that manufacturers of SSAs will be using this data in the formulation of their drugs.  If you now look at the table below, you can see how efficiently the 3 well-known SSAs inhibit NETs on each SSTR.

Octreotide 1140 0.56 34 7030 7
Lanreotide 2330 0.75 107 2100 5.2
Pasireotide 9.3 1 1.5 >100 0.16

View it in a separate window

You can see from the data why Octreotide and Lanreotide target SSTR2 and to a lesser extent SSTR5 but Pasireotide (Signifor or SOM-230) is interesting as it appears to have affinity for SSTRs 1-3 and 5, probably why it has been approved for Cushing’s Disease (ATCH producing).  However, to date, there has not been enough evidence showing that Pasireotide has a progression-free survival benefit over the other 2 therapies. It is also associated with hyperglycemia. You may find this video interesting as the doctor (Strosberg) is suggesting it could be used by NET patients in certain scenarios.

What about SSA labelled diagnostics?

The same principles apply.  For example, an Octreotide Scan (actually known as ‘Somatostatin Receptor’ Scintigraphy (SRS)) works by taking pictures using a gamma camera which is designed to see radiation from a ‘tracer’.  The tracer in question is a radio labelled with an Octreotide variant (such as pentetreotide) which will bind to somatostatin receptors on the surface of the tumour cells  In the simplest of terms, this shows up where NETs are.  The same principles apply to Ga 68 PET scans which are more advanced and more sensitive than SRS.

What about SSA labelled therapies?

With (say) Peptide Receptor Radiotherapy (PRRT), there is a similar binding mechanism going on.  In PRRT, Octreotide or a variant, is combined with a therapeutic dose of the radionuclides, e.g. Yttrium 90 (Y-90) and Lutetium 177 (Lu-177).  It binds with the SSTRs on the tumour cells and the therapeutic dose attacks the tumour having been brought there by the binding effect.  Simple isn’t it?

Do Somatostatin Receptors work for everyone?

Unfortunately not.  Some people have more sensitive receptors than others and the figure of 80% appears to be the most common statistic indicating one-fifth of all NET patients may not be able to respond correctly to SSA treatment or get the right results from Octreoscans/Ga 68 PET and/or PRRT.  However, that needs to be taken into context and probably applies to midgut NETs measured against SSTR2 – the tables above tend to confirm this figure.  During my research, I did read that higher than normal doses of SSAs may have some effect on those with less sensitive SSTRs.  Also, SSAs seem to work much better with well-differentiated tumours.

How do I know if my Somatostatin Receptors work?

When I was completing my NET checks after diagnosis, my Oncologist declared I was “Octreotide avid” shortly after my Octreoscan was compared with my CT.  I’m guessing that is a simple and crude test and how most people find out they have working receptors.  I also suspect that if your syndrome symptoms are abated somewhat by SSA injections, then you there is a good chance your SSTRs are working normally.  I also suspect those who show clear signs of tumour on CT but not on Octreoscan or Ga 68 PET, could have a receptor issue.

The advent of modern PET scanning (e.g. Ga68) has meant more accurate methods of working out if someone has the right receptors for PRRT through analysis of something known as standardized uptake values (SUV).

A more modern approach is to use a ‘Theranostic Pair” where the same radiolabelled tracer is used with the advantage that the diagnostic element can predict suitability for the therapy component  – read more here

lutathera owl - Copy

Somatostatin Receptor Research – Interest Point

I was please to see a piece of research ongoing to look at the issues with lack of somatostatin receptors.  The research is looking at novel imaging agents for NETs which do not have working receptors.  Read more here.


I hope this gives you a very basic outline of why Somatostatin Receptors are important to support the diagnosis and treatment of NETs.

My article “If you can see it, you can detect it” is almost 100% accurate but having working receptors really helps with nuclear scans.

Preclinical and clinical studies have indicated that somatostatin receptor (SSTR)expressing tumors demonstrate higher uptake of radiolabeled SSTR antagonists than of the currently approved SSTR agonist versions. See clinical trial OPS 201 for an example of the next generation of somatostatin receptor based theranostics where the use of a somatostatin antagonists.

thanks for reading

Lanreotide – it’s calling the shots!

Lanreotide calling the shots

2019 UPDATE:

Please note a new syringe for Lanreotide will be available in 2019, at least in Ireland and UK which have confirmed dates.  However, Ipsen are committed to roll it out to the rest of Europe, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand by end of 2019 (details to follow)  following necessary regulatory approvals.

Further information will be communicated to healthcare professionals in advance of this, to enable them to inform their patients, whom have been prescribed Lanreotide. In addition, the patient information leaflet included in the packet will have clear instructions for use. There will be a prominent yellow box located on the outer carton of the medicine, alerting healthcare professionals and patients that a new syringe is contained inside.

The new pre-filled syringe for Somatuline® Autogel® was the result of several studies, involving patients, their caregivers, nurses and other healthcare professionals, to inform and test enhancements to the existing pre-filled syringe. Notable new features are modified ergonomics and handling, a needle shield removal system, an injection process with plunger support and heightened ease of use. The automatic, built-in safety system, which helps to prevent needle stick injury by locking in place following the administration, has not been changed.

Please note that the medicine is still the same and the formulation and storage conditions have not changed.

new lanreotide
Diagram of new injection system for Lanreotide (hopefully actual photo to follow once I get my hands on one)

My Lanreotide Experience

When I was discharged from hospital following major surgery in Nov 2010, I knew I would shortly be commencing long-term monthly ‘somatostatin analogue’ treatment and had assumed Octreotide (Sandostatin LAR) would be the drug of choice. However, my Oncologist prescribed Lanreotide (known in the UK as Somatuline Autogel and elsewhere as Somatuline Depot).  Technically this is a hormone therapy (it’s not chemo).

Somatostatin Analogues (Octreotide/Lanreotide) are mainstay treatments for many Neuroendocrine Cancer patients and their introduction is a very significant factor in the improvement of both prognostic outcomes and quality of life.  Both drugs are designed to control Carcinoid Syndrome (but can be used selectively in other NET syndromes) and both have anti-tumour effects.  Check out my Lanreotide vs Octreotide comparison blog.

butt dart with words

Although I didn’t relish the thought of any injection in the ‘rear end’ every 28 days for the rest of my life, I admit to being slightly relieved with his choice.  I had been reading about patient experiences with the alternative, mainly the needle length and the occasional problems mixing the drug prior to injection.  Although Lanreotide has a similar gauge (thickness), the needle is a good bit shorter and is deep subcutaneous rather than Octreotide LAR’s intramuscular (IM) route. No mixing is required as Lanreotide comes prefilled.

If you’re interested in the science, please be aware that a somatostatin analogue is a synthetic (manufactured) version of a naturally occurring hormone which inhibits the peptides and amines that can be dangerously hypersecreted by certain neuroendocrine tumours.

Following an Octreotide Scan, various areas lit up confirming the output from previous CT scans.  It also confirmed new ‘hotspots’ for further investigation.  This specialist scan confirmed I probably had working receptors to receive something known as a Somatostatin Analogue to help with combatting the effects of Carcinoid Syndrome (please note that not having working receptors does not mean there is no benefit of receiving somatostatin analogues). I was therefore prescribed daily Octreotide (self-injecting) whilst I was waiting for my first major ‘debulking’ surgery, This treatment did eventually lessen the main effect of the carcinoid syndrome, facial flushing.  It wasn’t until after my first surgery that the facial flushing was dramatically reduced.  I commenced Lanreotide on 9 Dec 2010 and I haven’t had a facial flush since. It’s worth adding that my Chromogranin A (CgA) blood test (correlated to tumour mass) did not return to normal until after a liver resection 3 months later.  My 5HIAA urine test results (mainly correlated to serotonin levels) returned to normal prior to liver surgery in Apr 2011 indicating the Lanreotide was doing its job! Somatostatin Analogue side effects are to be expected and most people seem to have different and/or greater or lesser effects than others. The daily Octreotide did not bother me too much other than some discolouring of the stomach at the injection sites (i.e. black and blue!) ….I’m more observant nowadays, so it’s possible I may not have recorded this experience properly.

If you read the UK patient leaflet which comes with each injection, you can see a list of potential side effects as long as your arm.  Neuroendocrine Cancer comes with many signs, syndromes, symptoms and suspicions, so I always advise caution and some analysis when assigning reasons for problems encountered.  For North America, the equivalent instructions can be found here (Somatuline Depot). I don’t know precisely why (……. I do have my suspicions), but I’m always very sceptical about the criteria used to compile the list of side effects for any medicine. In my own mind, I’m fairly certain that people have existing symptoms or new symptoms as a result of coincidental treatment that are erroneously labelled under drugs during trials.

You can also self-inject Lanreotide but I’m not ready for that yet!  If you do self inject, please note it the site is “the upper outer part of your thigh”.  Check out the Ipsen leaflet here.

I think the injection site is very important and getting this wrong will worsen the side effects. For the Healthcare Professional or trained family member administration, the site should be the superior external quadrant but not of the whole ‘butt’, it means of the left or right buttock that is being used on an alternative basis.  If nurses think the whole ‘butt’, they might be tempted to stick it quite close to the ‘intergluteal cleft’ – not advisable!

Although the patient leaflets are very clear on how to administer the drug, once the location is established, I always discuss the following with the Nurse before I receive the ‘dart’:

1.  The injection should have been removed from the fridge at least 30 minutes before treatment. However, please note Ipsen clarified in 2019 that the product can be put back in the fridge in the original packaging for later use, provided it has been stored for no longer than 24 hours at below 40 deg C (104 deg F) and the number of ‘temperature excursions’ does not exceed three. If you are taking the drug somewhere to be administered or were waiting on a home visit, this might help with scheduling issues.

2.  Don’t pinch the skin, stretch it.

3.  Put the needle in fast at 90 degrees, inject the drug slow – 20 seconds is recommended. As the drug is viscous, in any case, there is normally some resistance to a fast release.

4. Do not rub or massage the area after as this action can interfere with the formulation of the drug.  This is clearly stated on the drug information leaflet, i.e. ” Apply gentle pressure to the injection site with a dry cotton ball or sterile gauze to prevent any bleeding. Do not rub or massage the injection site after administration”.

My experience with side effects.  People have different experiences with side effects and just because a particular side effect is mentioned, does not mean to say that everyone will be troubled – many patients experience little or none.  For me, over 7 years, I think I can attribute the following to Lanreotide:

  • itching but only on the legs below the knees centred on the ankles – and nearly always the right leg.  Occasionally, the injection site will itch but only for a day or two.  I have a tub of emollient cream (almond oil) on standby which seems to calm it down.  Note …… a little bit of me thinks there could be a connection with vitamin/mineral deficiency and perhaps a coincidental occurrence and this problem seems much less of an issue over 7 years later. EDIT- could have been Hypothyroidism – click here.
  • minor pain at the injection site but this only lasts for an hour or two and I believe this to be associated with the administration of the injection, i.e. if the injection is done properly, I don’t really have this problem except for a second or two as it enters.  Once, I had pain for 10 days.  In my own experience, the best and least painful injections are those done by trained personnel who are confident.
  • small lumps form at the injection site which is alternating superior external quadrant of the each buttock. You may occasionally hear these being called ‘granulomas‘ or ‘injection site granulomas’. The issue of ‘injection site granulomas’ seems to figure in both Lanreotide and Octreotide. Gluteal injection site granulomas are a very common finding on CT and plain radiographs. They occur as a result of subcutaneous (i.e. intra-lipomatous) rather than intramuscular injection of drugs, which cause localised fat necrosis, scar formation and dystrophic calcification. But no-one seems to know why they occur with somatostatin analogues. I find that they are more conspicuous if the injection is done slightly too high which was my initial experience and they took months to fade.  I opted to stand up for the first two injections and I attribute this decision for a slightly too high injection site.  I now lie down which is actually recommended for the smaller and thinner patient. Although the lumps have reduced in size, I have not seen a new lump for some time indicating location might have been the cause. They sometimes show up on scans.  This is not a new problem and has been highlighted for the last 10 years in academic papers.  This particular paper is useful and the conclusion confirms this is not something that should worry patients too much. Read more here
  • fatigue normally within 24-48 hours of the injection but this is not consistent. Not even sure it can be classed as proper fatigue but it’s a ‘you need to sit down and fall asleep‘ feeling! When this occurs, it normally only lasts for 1 day before the normal energy levels return.  Again, like the itching, this appears to be less of an issue today.
  • malabsorption. although the side effects of gastro-intestinal (GI) surgery and gallbladder removal can cause malabsorption issues leading to steatorrhea (basically the inability to digest fat properly); somatostatin analogues can cause or exacerbate existing steatorrhea, as they inhibit the production of digestive/pancreatic enzymes which aid fat digestion.  Most months, I notice a marked but short-term increase in this problem normally within 48-72 hours of the injection.
  • elevated blood glucose.  This is a new issue in 2018 but has been brewing for a year or two. The patient information leaflet for Lanreotide (and for Octreotide) clearly states that this is a potential side effect and also asks those who are already diabetic, to consult their doctor about monitoring doses of diabetic medicine.  I’m working with my doctors to keep my blood glucose down to avoid becoming diabetic.  Please read this article covering the connections between NETs and Diabetes

Watch a useful injection demonstration video here (for administration by a healthcare professional or family member) (click here)

A few years ago, there was some ‘talk’ that somatostatin analogues were also able to stunt or reverse the growth of certain neuroendocrine tumours.  Has this been the case for me?  Possibly.  I’ve had regular CT scans every 3-6 months and since two bouts of major surgery in 2010/2011, I’ve also had 3 x Octreoscans over the same period.  I did once spend a day analysing 5 years of scan results looking for variations in size and concluded that there was a stable trend and potentially a fading of one or two of my largest liver tumours. I was reminded these two types of scans were not really precise enough to detect small millimetre increases or decreases and as there were other factors at play, there was little commitment to make this declaration.  However, I did note in the summary of the CLARINET study, Lanreotide was associated with prolonged progression-free survival among patients with advanced, grade 1 or 2 (Ki-67 <10%) enteropancreatic, somatostatin receptor–positive neuroendocrine tumours with prior stable disease, irrespective of the hepatic tumour volume.  In terms of its anti-proliferative effects, an interim report from the CLARINET extension study suggested longer-term Lanreotide treatment is well tolerated with ‘anti-tumour’ effects in patients with progressive disease.  The final CLARINET open label extension study report additionally provided evidence for long-term PFS benefits of Lanreotide Autogel 120 mg in patients with indolent pancreatic and intestinal NETs.

There’s currently a trial ongoing in relation to Lanreotide and Lung NETs – read by clicking here.

I have my ups and downs and I do feel quite well most of the time.  Most people tell me I look quite well too – lucky they can’t see my insides!  Over the last 7 years, I’ve made some fairly significant adjustments to cope with my condition and maintain a reasonable quality of life – my monthly injection of Lanreotide is no doubt playing a big part.

Finally, please spend 5 minutes watching this fascinating video from Ipsen.  It explains in easy terms how Lanreotide works.  It also has a useful summary of the side effects at the end.  Click here to watch the video.

I’ve just been enrolled onto a new service called HomeZone whereby the injection is now administered at my home via an Ipsen provided and funded nurse.  Read here to see if you can also take advantage of this service.


In July 2018, I received my 100th injection of Somatuline Autogel (Lanreotide).  I was very grateful to still be here so I thought it was worth a celebratory cake – injection themed!

Cake with Needle


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I woke up on NET Cancer day

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what I mainly remember was my wife Chris holding my hand which gave me a great deal of much-needed comfort and security


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It was 10th November 2010 just after midnight. I gradually woke up after a marathon 9 hour surgery – the first of what was to be several visits to an operating theatre.  The last thing I remembered before going ‘under’ was the voices of the surgical staff. When I woke up, I remember it being dark and I appeared to be constrained and pinned down by the dozen or so tubes going in and out of my weak and battered body.  I can still remember the feeling today, it was like I was pinned to the bed and I was completely vulnerable and helpless.  However, what I mainly remember was my wife Chris holding my hand which gave me a great deal of much-needed comfort and security.

The build up to this day began on 26 July 2010 when I was given the news that I had metastatic Neuroendocrine Tumours and that the prognosis without any treatment wasn’t too good making the decision to have treatment a lot easier. I told my Oncologist to ‘crack on’ with whatever treatment would be required.

However, it wasn’t that easy and as I was yet to find out, Neuroendocrine Cancer isn’t a simple disease. I first had to undergo a plethora of other tests including specialist scans, blood and urine tests. The specialist scans (crucially) confirmed my tumours were ‘avid’ to a something called a somatostatin analogue’. The scan also confirmed I had more tumours than initially thought.  This was key to working out my treatment plan as I now had a grading,  staging and I had the right tumour ‘receptors’ to assist along the way.

When I initially presented in May 2010, I hadn’t realised for some months that I was showing symptoms of one of the Neuroendocrine Tumour syndromes (in my case carcinoid syndrome‘. This was mainly facial flushing but thinking back, there was some diarrhea albeit infrequent.  The subsequent specialist blood and urine tests (CgA and 5HIAA respectively) were way out of range confirming both the diagnosis of tumour bulk and tumour activity respectively.  The tumour activity (or function) is one thing which makes NETs different from most cancers and is caused by excessive secretion of specific hormones applicable to the primary location of the tumour.  Thus why I had to be established on a ‘somatostatin analogue’ which is designed to inhibit the excessive secretion.  I self-injected Octreotide daily for 2 months until the flushing was under control. When Neuroendocrine Tumours cause carcinoid syndrome, there is a risk of a phenomenon known as ‘Carcinoid Crisis’.  This is the immediate onset of debilitating and life-threatening symptoms that can be triggered by a number of events including anaesthesia. As an additional precaution to prevent such complications, I was admitted on the 8th November 2010 in order to have an ‘Octreotide soak’ (Octreotide on a drip) prior to the surgery on 9th November 2010.

As is normal for such procedures, I had the risks explained to me.  There seemed to be a lot of risks on the list and my surgeon, Mr Neil Pearce, carefully explained each one. Death was on the list but I was happy to hear he had a 100% record on his ‘table’. Trust is an extremely important word when you’re in this situation.

As a snub to cancer, I refused the offer of a wheelchair and chose to walk to the operating theatre at around 2.30pm. So together with my ‘drip fed’ Octreotide trolley and wearing my surgical stockings and gown (carefully fastened at the rear!), I wandered down to the operating theatre with my escorting nurse.

The 9-hour operation was designed to debulk what was described as “extensive intra-abdominal neuroendocrine disease”.  The operation comprised the removal of 3 feet of small intestine at the terminal ileum plus a right hemicolectomy, a mesenteric root dissection taking out the nodes on the superior mesenteric artery and a mesenteric vein reconstruction.  With the assistance of a vascular surgeon, my NET surgeon also dissected out a dense fibrotic retro-peritoneal reaction which had encircled my aorta and cava below the level of the superior mesenteric artery.  Phew! Thank goodness I was asleep 🙂

In those days, I had no idea that 10th November was NET Cancer Day.  Some 8 years later I not only celebrate the fact that I woke up on this date after my first major surgery but that I have also woken up to the idea and inspiration behind NET Cancer Day in terms of an awareness window of opportunity.

However, on the basis that you can never have enough awareness windows, for me  EVERY DAY IS NET CANCER DAY and via my own social media channels, I’m making sure everyone knows! 

Thanks for listening


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