Neuroendocrine Cancer and Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT) – the Digested Version (Nutrition Series Article 5)


pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy nutrition article 5

After 7 years of avoiding pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT), I finally asked for some on a trial basis at the end of 2017.  To be honest, for some time, I thought they were really only needed in the NET world for those with pancreatic issues (pNETs).  I’ve always known I’ve had some digestive issues related to malabsorption. However, I’m not losing weight – this has been stable for some years (but see below).  Plus my key vitamin levels (B12 and D) are in range.  However, I had been struggling with a lot of bloating issues, thus the trial.  You know me, I like to research and analyse such things! I’ve actually written about a lot of these issues in my Nutrition series ….. so this is now ‘Article Number 5’.

Crash Course. We eat food, but our digestive system doesn’t absorb food, it absorbs nutrients. Food has to be broken down from things like steak and broccoli into its nutrient pieces: amino acids (from proteins), fatty acids and cholesterol (from fats), and simple sugars (from carbohydrates), as well as vitamins, minerals, and a variety of other plant and animal compounds. Digestive enzymes, primarily produced in the pancreas and small intestine, break down our food into nutrients so that our bodies can absorb them.

Background

Some of the common symptoms of NETs are gas, bloating, cramping and abdominal pain and the root cause of these issues can sometimes be as a result of insufficient ‘digestive’ enzymes.  They are primarily produced in the pancreas (an exocrine function) and the small intestine but also in the saliva glands and the stomach.  This post will focus on pancreas and to a certain extent, the small intestine.  There are actually some key tell-tale signs of a pancreatic enzyme deficiency, such as steatorrhoea which is described as an excess of fat in faeces, the stool may float due to trapped air, the stool can be pale in colour, may be foul-smelling, and you may also notice droplets of oil or a ‘slick’ in the toilet pan.  Steatorrhoea is mainly (but not always) due to malabsorption of fat from the diet and this can actually be caused or made worse by somatostatin analogues which are known to inhibit the supply of pancreatic enzymes. Of course if fat is not being absorbed, then the key nutrients your body needs to function properly might not be either.  The signs from that might not be so noticeable but can be even more problematic over time. Please see Article 1.

Those who have had surgery, in particular, in GI tract/digestive system, are at risk of malabsorption; as are those prescribed somatostatin analogues (Lanreotide/Octreotide) as these drugs can inhibit digestive enzymes, causing or adding to the malabsorption effect.  For those who need to read more, see Article 2.

One way to combat these issues when they are caused by pancreatic insufficiency is with Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT) which can mimic the normal digestive process. However, this is not the whole story as there could be numerous reasons for these issues, perhaps even some which are unrelated to NETs. If you are in doubt about whether you suffer from malabsorption and/or any form of digestive enzyme insufficiency, you should consult your doctors.

Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy

Many NET patients succumb to malabsorption due to pancreatic insufficiency and are prescribed Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy, or PERT for short.  There are various brands available (e.g. Creon®, Nutrizym®, Pancrease HL® or Pancrex®). Most are in capsule form in various doses.

How does PERT work? Most people experiencing the issues above are going to benefit from a multiple-enzyme replacement which tend to include the key ones such as:

  • protease which breakdown proteins (e.g meat, fish, seafood, dairy, nuts, etc)
  • lipase which break down fats (e.g from many different foods)
  • amylase which breaks down starchy carbohydrates (e.g. potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, cereals, fruits, fibre, etc).

The dose sizes tend to be based on the amount of lipase, i.e. a 25,000 strength would mean 25,000 units of lipase and (normally) a lesser amount of amylase and protease.  The entire mix of enzymes may be given a name, e.g. ‘Pancreatin’ or ‘Pancrealipase’.  You will be given a number of capsules to be used from your prescribing doctor.

The pancreatic enzyme capsule is swallowed along with food and digests food as they pass through the gut. If your capsules contain an enteric coat or enteric coated granules (delayed release), they should not be affected by stomach acid. The replacement enzymes will help to break down food allowing the nutrients to be absorbed beyond the stomach (i.e. in the small intestine). Do not be alarmed at the dose sizes, a healthy pancreas will release about 720,000 lipase units during every meal!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

When I first started taking the supplements, I thought of numerous questions, many of which I could not find definitive answers to! Different sites say different (and contradictory) things.  Clearly, you should always consult your prescribing doctor and the medicine patient information leaflet. That said, I found the patient information leaflet which came with the capsules is just not detailed enough for an inquisitive patient such as myself!

I always like to refer to best practice which is why I’ve consulted one of the top NET Dietitians, Tara Whyand of Royal Free London. She agreed to an online Q&A session on 28 Feb 2018.  This took place on my private Facebook group click here or search Facebook for this group “Neuroendocrine Cancer – Ronny Allan’s Group“.  Join, answer some simple questions and then your application will be processed.

The output from the online with with Tara Whyand is below:

Thanks for attending the online event. Here is a tidy summary of the many comments. I hope this is also useful for those who were unable to attend.

  1. Why would I need PERT and are there any tests that can be done to validate this?

“Somatostatin analogues, pancreatic surgery, pancreatitis and cystic fibrosis can cause exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). This means that the pancreas does not produce enough enzymes to break down food. It results in fatty loose stools called steatorrhoea.

Patients who have exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) require PERT (pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy) to break down food (fat, protein and carbohydrate). There are many brands of pancreatic enzymes, the most commonly used are Creon and Nutrizyme. Both have different dose levels to choose from.

The fecal elastase test was traditionally used to test the function of the pancreas, although it may not be that useful in NETs. This is because a NET team in Wales found that some NET patients who reported steatorrhoea had a false negative result.

Steatorrhoea may also be a result of bile acid malabsorption and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth which can co-exist and are common especially after surgery. They can both be tested for at a hospital.”

Supplementary Questions:

1a. Would the treatment be different for both EPI and bile acid malabsorption? If not how different?

“Yes BAM requires bile acid sequestrants rather than PERT”.

1b. would this be something you would take in general to help overall digestion and absorption of nutrients?

“No only if you have reasons for EPI to occur”.

  1. PERT dosage. Is there a set dosage for all patients or does it depend on type of NET or surgery? And can I overdose on PERT?

“It depends on what you eat. PERT dose is normally tailored on fat content (the more fat you have, the more enzymes you need), but patients who have had a total pancreatectomy will have to have PERT for all food and drink (apart from water) as carbohydrate and protein needs to be broken down too.”

Supplementary Questions

2a. “What about when taking medication such as Cholesteramine or pills in the morning and evening. Do I need to take it to absorb these?”

“see question 5”.

2b. I had a total pancreatectomy and was told I do not need PERT for fruit and veg?

“there’s carbs in all fruit and veg and often fat and protein too, so no different really.”

  1. Some sources say to take the capsules at the beginning of a meal, some say it’s also at the end of a meal is also OK. How critical is this?

“You must always take the capsules at the beginning of the meal and if the meal goes on longer than ~30 minutes, or there are several courses, you will need to have another capsule/tablet/scoop of enzymes. If you don’t, food will pass by the pancreas undigested and ‘malabsorption occurs. This leads to fatty stools (steatorrhoea), fat soluble vitamin deficiency and weight loss. Unbroken down food can also feed bacteria and you can develop small intestinal bacterial overgrowth as a result.”

Supplementary Questions

3a. so if my oncologist says to take four capsules per meal, then I should take all four at the same time?

“see question 11”

3b. if you have had a total gastrectomy (total removal of the stomach), is there a different procedure for taking PERT? I am on Creon and have heard that perhaps I need to open up the capsules as I can not break down the gelatin casing. Not sure if this is true or not.

“See question 11”

  1. What is a meal? Is it multiple courses, or is there a strategy for each individual course? What about snacks? (i.e. a single biscuit with a cup of tea)

“The standard starting dose for snacks: 22-25,000 units lipase, titrating up when symptoms have not resolved. Most people end up taking 44,000-50,000 for snacks.

For main meals start on 44,000/50,000 and most people will need 66,000-100,000 units lipase/meal for the long term.”

Supplementary Questions:

4a. I have to eat multiple small meals a day (like every 3 hours, so 7 to 8 small meals). Is there a limit on the amount of Creon I can take in a day?

“see question 11”

4b. What is a snack?

“No official definition. Something with a little fat and maybe 50-200kcals.

  1. Are there any problems taking PERT at the same time as other drugs? e.g. I like to take my vitamin supplements with food. And it’s recommended that some drugs be taken with food.

“PERT only breaks down food, but it is important to take your PERT to ensure food and drugs are absorbed. If you do not take you PERT with the meal, it is likely that food and drugs will rush through your bowel without being absorbed. There is no problem taking vitamins and minerals with food and PERT.

Supplementary Questions:

5a. I take a probiotic also, when is best time to take this, before, during or after food?

“Timing doesn’t matter”

  1. I heard PERT is a porcine produce but I’m a vegan? Is there anything else for me?

There are no other recommended products, and you should only have prescription PERT’s. This is for safety and reliability. Other off the shelf enzymes are unlikely to work.

Pigs are not slaughtered for PERT, they are slaughtered for meat and enzymes are a by-product if that makes anyone feel more comfortable with the idea.”

  1. I heard PERT is a porcine produce but my religion does not allow me to eat such produces. Is there anything else for me?

“PERT are only sourced from a pigs pancreas but Jewish and Muslim patients have been granted approval to take the enzymes on medical grounds from their religious leaders because there is no alternative.”

  1. Some doctors are prescribing PPIs along with PERT claiming that they help the PERT do the job. Do you have a view on this and are there any general diet tips to support the job of PERT without resorting to other drugs?

“Yes if you have had a whipples operation or you have acid reflux you must take an anti-acid (proton-pump inhibitor-PPI) drug to reduce the acid level. If left untreated it can cause ulcers, and when they bleed it can sometimes lead to a life threatening situation. PERT are gastro-resistant-they do not work in too high an acid environment. Sometimes a PPI / H2 blocker can decrease the acid level and allow the PERT to work better. There is no other reliable way of reducing stomach acid.

Note: Ronny Allan input that there is information published about the over-subscribing of PPI for long term use. Additionally that some NET specialists are suggesting a preference for H2 Blockers rather than PPI for NET Patients. H2 Receptor Blockers include Nizatidine (Axid), Famotidine (Pepcid, Pepcid AC), Cimetidine (Tagamet, Tagamet HB), Ranitidine (Zantac). The exceptions would be for PPI therapy necessary for Barrett’s Esophagus and Zollinger Ellison Syndrome (Gastrinoma). Read my article on PPIs by clicking here

Supplementary Questions:

8a. I had a whipples two and a half years ago and have recently stopped taking omperazole as I didn’t seem to need them. Do you think I should still be taking something to reduce acid level anyway?

“yep think you should be on Ranitadine or a PPI long term.”

8b. Is it possible to suffer from excess acid without even knowing it? I also take probiotics, is it possible they could be minimising any excess acid? Also, I seem to be able to eat whatever I want without consequence but am worried now in case I am doing wrong and storing up trouble for myself.

yes you can have silent reflux but after a total pancreatectomy you needs lots of adjustments and insulin dosing advice.”

9. How will I know the PERT is working for me? And are there any tests to validate this?

“You will know if your PERT is working well if your symptoms improve – i.e. you get normal (mid brown and formed) stools.

Patients taking enough PERT will not become fat soluble vitamin deficient or lose weight in the long term.

You could do a fecal elastase test (if stools are not liquid), but this is not a very reliable test especially for patients with NETs.

If symptoms do not resolve entirely, there may be a co-existing cause of malabsorption e.g. bile acid malabsorption or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.”

Supplementary Questions:

9a. With regards to Question 9, how would you know if you have bile acid malabsorption or SIBO? Can you be tested for those?

“If PERT doesn’t resolve things, SIBO testing is another thing to look at using a lactulose drink and hydrogen breath test. If the NET is in the terminal ileum, bile acid malabsorption (BAM) is likely. The test is a SeHCAT scan and treatment usually Questran or Colesevelam.

  1. If I need to stop taking PERT, do I just stop or do I need to taper off consumption over time?

“No, just stop. But only do so if it has caused a side effect and report the reaction to the doctor and pharmaceutical company. If you don’t think they are working, speak with a specialist Dietitian and you may need a PPI or H2 blocker or change brand/dose.”

  1. If someone has had a total gastrectomy, can they take Creon? If so, do they need to open up the pill to remove the gelatin to help the enzymes to work?

“They are to be taken as normally directed. You can open capsules but only into an acidic fruit juice (a pH of 4.5 or below) and swallow immediately. It could be argued that PERT will work most easily in patients having a gastrectomy as you cannot get too high a stomach acid level without stomach P-cells. By the way, shouldn’t be any gelatin in the prescribed PERT”

Supplementary Questions:

11a. Are there any problems with taking too much in a day? I have to have 7 to 8 meals (minimum). I am losing weight. Take with every snack and meal?

“You can overdose – for Creon this is 6000 units lipase per kg of body weight. If you are still losing weight, PERT is not working or something else is the cause of malabsorption”

  1. SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTIONS AT THE END

12A. My steatorrhoea only occurs once/twice a month. Is PERT indicated if steatorrhoea is not chronic?

“Yes, probably need to take all month as steatorrhoea is only a sign of extreme malabsorption, small amounts of malabsorption aren’t noticeable visibly but will reflect in weight and blood vitamin levels.”

12B. I do not need Creon as I am a Lung NET; although I have had my gall bladder removed.

“May need PERT if on somatostatin analogues. Some people take a bile acid sequestrants after gall bladder removal. PERT won’t work for that.”

Summary

I’ve always known about issues such as steatorrhoea and vitamin/mineral deficiency. My weight is fine but very happy to trial PERT to see the differences. I made a mistake of starting the capsules on Dec 23rd just before Christmas – it made for an interesting week!  Early days so far but I’m getting used to taking them (and remembering to take them ….). Still seeing signs of steatorrhoea but am tracking this against diet.  Not seeing any change to stool frequency. I would appear to be belching more though!  I will keep this post live as I learn more.

You may wish to see the output from an online chat I carried out, the link is above.

UPDATE 1st Feb 2019.  After 1 year, I’m not sure if there has been any difference to signs of malabsorption with Creon, although the supplement did help with weight gain in the period Oct – Dec 2018 after a dose increase. I had lost weight earlier in 2018 due to a bad chest infection and was having trouble regaining it.  Despite the success with the weight gain, that is no long an issue, so I commenced a 3 month trial of Nutrizym to see any change in intermittent but frequent steatorrhea, which potentially indicates a continuing malabsorption issue.

You may also enjoy these articles:

“Nutrition Article 1 – Vitamin/Mineral Risks”click here.

“Nutrition Article 2 – GI Malabsorption”click here.

“Nutrition Article 3 – SIBO/Probiotics”click here

“Nutrition Article 4 – Food for Thought – amines etc”click here

Post publishing edit:  “I feel like I now take food with my medicine” 🙂

Read a Gut Surgery Diet Booklet authored by Tara – CLICK HERE

Thanks for reading

Ronny

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



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Lanreotide – Four more years

The UK general election steps up a gear this month and social media is playing a huge part in the debate leading up to 7 May 2015.  In the USA, the different parties are busily working on their candidates ready for 2016. It appears that politicians worldwide, are keen to exploit all areas of communication to eke out votes from the young and old who now use social media on a scale which makes 4 or 5 years ago look prehistoric. In 2012, Barack Obama’s ‘four more years’ tweet was the biggest retweeted post ever up to that point after he thanked his 22 million followers.  He took the top spot from Justin Bieber but was then overtaken last year by Ellen De Generes’s famous mass celebrity selfie.

Four years ago, I thought Twitter was only for famous people, I was a low to medium user of Facebook for the odd joke and family photo and I thought blogs were only for journalists.  However, I had other things going on and wasn’t worried about such ‘trivia’.  Four years ago, I commenced my post-surgical and long-term treatment for metastatic Neuroendocrine Cancer.  You can read more about my journey here – my diagnosis and the intervening period leading up to my first big surgery – I woke up on NET Cancer Day.

When I left the hospital, I knew I would be starting long-term monthly ‘somatostatin analogue’ treatment and had assumed Octreotide (Sandostatin LAR) would be the drug of choice. However, my Oncologist prescribed 90 mg Lanreotide (Somatuline Autogel, known in the USA as Somatuline Depot). 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.  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.  I’ve just chalked up “butt dart” number 53 last week!

If you are 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.  If you are after a more technical explanation of this process, you should check out my blog Neuroendocrine Tumours – not an exact science! – inside you will find a link to a fantastic paper by Dr Eugene Woltering, one of the world’s top NET Cancer experts.

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Whilst I was waiting for my first major ‘debulking’ surgery and after checks to confirm if my tumours were ‘avid’ to somatostatin analogues, I was prescribed daily Octreotide (self injecting) and this did eventually lessen the main effect of my ‘carcinoid syndrome’, facial flushing.  It wasn’t until after this surgery that the facial flushing was dramatically reduced although I do remember a minor occurrence within a month.  I started Lanreotide in Jan 2011 and I haven’t had a facial flush since.  However, 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 (correlated to serotonin levels) returned to normal earlier indicating the Lanreotide was doing its job!

Octreotide/Lanreotide 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 properly. The monthly Lanreotide has caused only minor issues and the ones I’ve encountered are already well documented side effects. I always try to be careful not to immediately assign blame for certain side effects which I’m fairly confident are as a result of my new ‘plumbing’ rather than the Lanreotide.  The main adverse side effects I’m sure can be attributed to Lanreotide are:

– itching but only on the legs below the knees centred on the ankles – and nearly always the right leg.  I have no idea why but even after my injection last week, this still happened!  It is not as intense as 2011 and only lasts for about a week after the injection.  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.

– 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.  My experience is that a lack of training or confidence hurts more!  I always instruct the injector to stick the needle in fast and release the contents slow (min 20 seconds) and no pinching the skin!  Watch a useful injection video here.   You can self inject Lanreotide (upper thigh area) but I’m not ready for that yet!

– small lumps form at the injection site which is alternating superior external quadrant of the buttocks.  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.

– fatigue normally within 24-48 hours of the injection. Not even sure it can be classed as proper fatigue but it’s a ‘you need to sit down and fall asleep’ feeling! It normally only lasts for 1 day before the normal energy levels return.

– although the side effects of small intestinal surgery and gallbladder removal can cause malabsorption issues, in particular the inability to digest fat properly; somatostatin analogues can exacerbate steatorrhea as they inhibit the production of digestive enzymes which aid fat digestion.  I notice a marked and short-term increase in this problem normally within 72 hours of the injection.

Four 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 2 x Octreoscans (the most recent incorporating a SPECT).  I did once spend a day analysing 4 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.

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!  Over the last 4 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.

So ‘four more years’ of Lanreotide gets my vote and I’d like to tell the world! I just wish I had 22 million twitter followers to help with my message 🙂  A retweet by Ellen De Generes, Barack Obama or Justin Bieber would help though!

(Check out my blog “5 years of Lanreotide“)

Thanks for reading

Ronny Allan

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