Did you hear the one about the constipated NET patient?

constipation
did you hear the one about the constipated NET Patient?

In my neck of the woods, “did you hear the one about the ………” is normally a precursor to a witty comment, or a joke.   However, constipation for NET patients is not actually funny – read on.

Certain types of Neuroendocrine Cancer are very heavily associated with diarrhea, either as a symptom of one of the NET Syndromes (yes there is more than one …..); or as a result of surgery or certain other treatments.  Occasionally, these symptoms and side effects can all combine to make it quite a nasty and worrying side effect.

I must admit to being surprised to find myself with feelings of constipation from around 4-5 years after my treatment and I set about trying to find out why that might be. To understand why I got to this stage, I assessed the history of my treatment and what I changed in an attempt to improve my Quality of Life (QoL) – I feel there is a strong connection.

When I underwent my primary surgery (Nov 2010), my surgeon said it would take months for my ‘digestive system’ to return to some form of normality.  I soon found out what he meant, I seemed to be permanently affixed to a toilet seat (plenty of reading opportunities though ….. every cloud!).   I suddenly realised that I needed to start looking seriously at my diet.  I did find some improvements by trying to eat things that would bulk up my stools vs trying to avoid things that might increase frequency (i.e. I wanted a reduction in frequency combined with a bulkier stool). Eventually, I settled on a regime for the first couple of years and to be honest, I didn’t need to change my diet in any radical sense.  I was also determined not to take any medication (I was taking enough) and wanted this to work as naturally as possible.

Things were still not ideal and in 2013, I even remember saying to my Oncologist that although I was never misdiagnosed with IBS, I felt like I now had it. I decided to attack this issue following professional advice from one of the eminent experts in the NET specialist dietitian world – Tara Whyand.  My regime was now based on science (although it isn’t really an exact type!), that is checking the ‘at risk’  nutrient levels were OK (particularly ADEK and B12), taking supplements where necessary to help with deficiencies, and tackling things such as malabsorption and diet.

The patient has a big part to play in any improvement strategy, so in 2013/14 I experimented more and completely changed my breakfast and lunch regime to oatmeal/porridge and toast which made a significant difference. I started to avoid eating large meals and I reduced fat consumption generally. I started taking probiotics to counter the effect of any bacterial imbalance as a result of my surgery (i.e. to combat SIBO).  To keep track of everything, I set up and maintained a detailed diary to help identify things making it worse, tinkering as I went along. For those who are contemplating this sort of strategy, let me tell you – it takes time, effort and patience!

I seemed to make excellent progress with ‘frequency’, which is down to once or twice per day – i.e. I felt like a normal bloke 🙂 Quality was not consistently good but I’m of the opinion, this may be something I need to live with. Stomach cramps are reduced, as is gas and bloating reduced (I’m fairly confident that is mainly down to probiotics). Happy days, my strategy has worked.  I reduced my average daily ‘visits’ by 400% without any medicine. 

However …. (have you noticed, there’s always a ‘however’ with NET cancer?).

Although I’m generally well, I did start to think in 2016 that the balance was not quite right. My ‘visits’ were starting to last longer due to a consistent feeling of incomplete emptying – i.e. movement is OK but is followed by what seems like constipation. Additionally, I’ve had several episodes of constipation and pain with no ‘movement’ for 24-36 hours. This happened in May, September and December 2016.  Had 3 more episodes in 2017 and 2 so far in 2018.  My diary now has numerous ‘zero’ entries in the daily bowel movements column, something I never thought I would see again in my lifetime!

When you’ve had small intestinal surgery, as many midgut NET patients have, this sort of thing can be extremely worrying. A bowel obstruction can be dangerous and I’d like to avoid additional surgery at this stage. The second occurrence was particularly severe and the pain lasted for 1-2 weeks. Fortunately, the issues eventually settled and appear to have been a result of a sluggish system, although my regular scans check to see if any issues in that area might have been contributing. (Note – lactulose (oral) is awful, will never touch it again!). I seem to remember a few years ago thinking constipation would be a luxury.  I can assure you it isn’t – things need to keep moving, the opposite is much worse!

So … am I a victim of my own dietary regime success? Possibly.  The GP who assessed my constipation and pain in September 2016 told me to stop taking a Calcium supplement which was prescribed by the same practice at the beginning of that year – Calcium can slow your system down apparently (…..the calcium is a long story but it was a counter to an osteoporosis risk that I have due to long-term use of blood thinners).  I already get enough calcium (and vitamin D) through the normal channels plus supplements, so it was a low risk action. I tinkered with my diet again, reducing my fibre intake and then built up again slowly. Additionally, I could probably do with more water!  Perhaps my Lanreotide is having some effect too? In 2018, I changed my bread to one with less fibre as a test, nothing to report so far.

Is it just me with constipation issues? No….. I carried out some covert searches on forums and found this issue has been mentioned numerous times.

I suspect we need science and some specialist NET research in this area, not sure the over the counter prescription is the optimum solution.  I was therefore delighted to see a patient survey produced by NET Patient Foundation in conjunction with the Royal Free Hospital presented right in front of me in Barcelona at ENETS 2018.  In this survey (which I remember completing), they found that the most self reported side effect of somatostatin analogues was in actual fact constipation (shock horror!).

Tara poster
The poster as presented at ENETS 2018 – featuring Tara Whyand

As you can see from the picture, the survey results came along with some pertinent advice which you will already find in some of my articles co-authored by Tara Whyand who was involved in the survey results analysis.  Interestingly, Tara commented on the constipation figure pointing out that the constipated feeling may in fact be confused with ‘incomplete emptying’ as I indicated I was experiencing above.  I think she’s right.

self reported survey
Abstract posted at ENETS 2018

I’m always skeptical about patient surveys as they tend to be gathered from a very small percentage of the actual patient population and tend to be sourced from those with the worst issues (something I call ‘situating the appreciation’).  There’s a little skepticism in me about this particular survey, mainly because the results were not scientifically investigated i.e. were these self-reported side effects actually caused by somatostatin analogues or something else?

However, many of the things reported in this patient survey are issues that I know patients tend to talk about anecdotally in patient forums. Some of them are already listed on patient information leaflets (often without patients knowing I might add) so this is further confirmation of the official trial results.  Wide variances or new unlisted issues probably need looking at though.

Despite some of these side effects being listed, I believe doctors need to provide more support for patients who experience these issues.  So, even if constipation (or incomplete emptying) is not totally caused by somatostatin analogues, at least this survey should start up a dialogue.

p.s. I recently started taking Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy to combat some of the well known side effects of somatostatin analogues but not yet evaluated their overall impact with the above story.  Read about this and a Q & A session with Tara Whyand in this article – click here

Thanks for reading

Ronny

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Neuroendocrine Cancer – the diarrhea jigsaw

NETCancer Diarrhea Jigsaw

Diarrhea can be a symptom of many conditions but it is particularly key in Neuroendocrine Tumour (NET) Syndromes and types, in particular, Carcinoid Syndrome but also in those associated with various other NET types such as VIPoma, PPoma, Gastrinoma, Somatostatinoma, Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma.

Secondly, it can be a key consequence (side effect) of the treatment for Neuroendocrine Tumours and Carcinomas, in particular following surgery where various bits of the gastrointestinal tract are excised to remove and/or debulk tumour load.

There are other reasons that might be causing or contributing, including (but not limited to) endocrine problems such as hyperthryoidism, mastocytosis or Addison’s disease (which may be secondary illnesses in those with NETs).  It’s also possible that ‘non-sydromic’ issues such as stress and diet are contributing. It could be caused by other things such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Yes, believe it or not, NET Patients can get normal diarrhea causing diseases too!

Define Diarrhea

I want to give a general definition of diarrhea as there are many variants out there. In general, they all tend to agree that diarrhea is having more frequent, loose and watery stools. Three or more stools per day seems to be the generally accepted threshold, although some sites don’t put a figure on it.  It’s not pleasant and just about everyone on the planet will suffer it at some point in their life, perhaps with repeated episodes. Normally it’s related to some kind of bug, or something you’ve eaten and will only last a few days before it settles (acute diarrhea). Diarrhea lasting more than a couple of weeks is considered chronic and some people will require medical care to treat it.  It can also be caused by anxiety, a food allergy/intolerance or as a side effect of medicine. Pharmacists and GPs will be seeing many patients with this common ailment every single day of business.

Diarrhea induced by a Syndrome

When you consider the explanation above, it’s not really surprising that diarrhea related symptoms can delay a diagnosis of Neuroendocrine Cancer (and most likely other cancers too, e.g. pancreatic cancer, bowel cancer). For example, diarrhea is the second most common symptom of Carcinoid Syndrome (Flushing is actually the most common) and is caused mainly by the oversecretion of the hormone Serotonin from the tumours. Please note diarrhea in other types of syndromes or NETs may be caused by other hormones, for example it may also be caused by excess calcitonin in the case of Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma or VIP in the case of a functional pNET known as VIPoma. I’ve heard stories of people being told they have IBS or something similar for years before they received what is now a late diagnosis and at an advanced cancer stage. This is only one of the reasons why NETs is not an easy condition to diagnose, although it is possible that some people actually had IBS and it was masking the NET. Even after treatment to remove or reduce tumours, many people will remain syndromic and need assistance and treatment to combat diarrhea induced by a NET syndrome (see below).

Diarrhea as a Consequence (Side effect) of Treatment for Neuroendocrine Cancer and Other Conditions

All cancer treatments can have consequences and Neuroendocrine Cancer is definitely no exception here. For example, if they chop out several feet of small intestine, a chunk of your large intestine, chunks (or all) of your stomach or your pancreas, your gallbladder and bits of your liver, this is going to have an effect on the efficiency of your ‘waste disposal system’. One effect is that it will now work faster! Another is that the less effective ‘plumbing’ may not be as efficient as it was before.  There are also knock-on effects which may create additional issues with the digestive system including but not limited to; Malabsorption and SIBO.  I recommend you read my posts on Malabsorption and SIBO.

Surgery can often be the root cause of diarrhea.  A shorter gut for example, means shorter transit times presenting as increased frequency of bowel movements.  Another example is the lack of terminal ileum can induce Bile Acids Malabsorption (BAM) (sometimes known as Bile Salts Malabsorption) in degrees of severity based on size of resection. Lack of a gallbladder (common with NETs) can also complicate.  Bile Acids are produced in the liver and have major roles in the absorption of lipids in the small intestine. Following a terminal ileum resection which includes a right hemicolectomy, there is a risk that excess Bile Acids will leak into the large intestine (colon) via the anastomosis (the new joint between small and large intestines).  This leakage can lead to increased motility, shortening the colonic transit time, and so producing watery diarrhea (or exacerbating an existing condition). Although this condition can be treated using bile acid sequestrants (i.e.  Questran), it can be difficult to pinpoint it as the cause.

Surgery of the pancreas can also produce effects such as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency which can lead to a malabsorption condition known as steatorrhea which may be confused with diarrhea (although some texts call it a type of diarrhea).   It isn’t really diarrhea but it may look like it given the presentation of the faeces and patients may suffer both diarrhea and steatorrhea concurrently.  Patients will recognise it in their stools which may be floating, foul-smelling, greasy (oily) and frothy looking. Treatment options will mainly include the use of Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy or PERT for short (Creon etc).

Many non-surgical treatments can also cause diarrhea, including but not limited to; somatostatin analogues (see below), chemotherapy, biological targeted therapy (e.g. Everolimus, Sunitinib), radiotherapy.

Somatostatin analogues are an interesting one as they are designed to inhibit secretion of particular hormones and peptides by binding to the receptors found on Neuroendocrine tumour cells. This has the knock-on effect of inhibiting digestive/pancreatic enzymes which are necessary to break down the fat in our foods leading to Malabsorption of important nutrients.  This may worsen the steatorrhea in pancreatic NET patients but also lead to steatorrhea in others with non-pancreatic locations who have been prescribed these drugs.

Other conditions may actually be the cause of the diarrhea or the treatment for those conditions.  For example, it is possible that people actually do have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  Treatment therapy for common conditions may also be contributing, for example the use of Proton Pump Inhibitors for acid reflux.

 

Treatment for Syndrome Induced Diarrhea 

Like many other NET patients, I’m on a 28 day injection of somatostatin analogues (in my case Lanreotide).  Both Octreotide and Lanreotide are designed to reduce the effects of NET syndromes and therefore can often make a difference to syndrome induced diarrhea. These drugs also have anti-tumour effect and so even if you are not syndromic or they do not halt or adequately control syndrome induced diarrhea, they are still a valuable contribution to NET treatment.

Some syndromic patients find they still have diarrhea despite somatostatin analogues and they end up having ‘rescue shots’ or pumps for relief (both of these methods tend to be Octreotide based).  (Hopefully they are not getting confused between diarrhea caused by the non-syndrome effects – see above).  Some have more frequent injections of the long acting versions of somatostatin analogues which has the effect of increasing the dosage.  There’s a new drug available for those whose carcinoid syndrome induced diarrhea is not adequately controlled or perhaps they are unable to have somatostatin analogues as a treatment. Telotristat Ethyl works by inhibiting tryptophan hydroxylase (TPH), a chemical reactor involved in the manufacture of serotonin, which is the main cause of syndrome induced diarrhea.  It was approved by the US FDA in February 2017, EU areas in September 2017, and is on the way to being approved elsewhere.  Read about this drug here.

telotristat-etiprate-clinical-trial-serotonin-as-a-key-driver-of-carcinoid-syndrome

Sorting out the symptoms – post diagnosis

I like to describe this as the Neuroendocrine Cancer jigsaw. It’s a really difficult one and sometimes you cannot find a piece, or the pieces won’t fit. However, metaphorically speaking, the missing piece might be a NET specialist presentation, a comment, statement or view from another patient, a link to an article from a reputable source, or even something you do to improve your lot – there might even be trial and error involved. It might even be this blog post!

How do you work out whether diarrhea is caused by a hormone producing tumour or by the side effects of treatments? There’s no easy answer to this as both might be contributing. One crude but logical way is to just accept that if you have normal hormone markers, for example 5HIAA (there could be more for other tumour/syndrome types), and you’re not really  experiencing any of the other classic symptoms, then your syndrome might be under control due to your treatment (e.g. debulking surgery and/or somatostatin analogues, or another drug). My Oncologist labels me as ‘non-syndromic’ – something which I agree with. I’m 99.999999% sure my issues are as a result of the treatment I’ve had and am receiving.

This disease is so individual and there are many factors involved including the type of syndrome/NET, patient comorbidities and secondary illnesses, consequences of the surgery or treatments performed, side effects of drugs – all of which is intermingled with suspicion and coincidence – it’s that jigsaw again!  I always like to look in more detail to understand why certain things might be better than others, I always challenge the ‘status quo’ looking to find a better ‘normal’.  I really do think there are different strategies for syndrome induced diarrhea and that which is a result of treatment or a side effect of treatment.  There’s also different prices, with inhibitors costing thousands, whilst classic anti-diarrhea treatments are just a few pennies.  Adjustments to diets are free!

When I was discharged from hospital after the removal of my small intestinal primary, I was in the toilet A LOT (I was actually in the toilet a lot before I was discharged – check out my primary surgery blogs here) .  My surgeon did say it would take months to get back to ‘normal’ – he was right and it did eventually settle – although my new ‘toilet normal’ was soft and loose and several times daily.  My previously elevated CgA and 5HIAA were eventually back to normal and my flushing had disappeared.  I didn’t have too many issues with diarrhea before diagnosis.  Deduction:  my issues are most likely not syndrome induced.

I read that many people find basic ‘Loperamide’ (Imodium) helps and I tend to agree with that if you are non syndromic and just need that little bit of help.  I decided long time ago I would not become ‘hooked’ and only really take it for two purposes:  1) if I have a bad patch and 2) if I’m going on a long journey (i.e. on a plane perhaps).  I estimate I’ve used 4 packets in as many years.  Loperamide decreases the activity which causes intestinal motility (peristalsis). This has the effect of increasing the time material stays in the intestine therefore allowing more water to be absorbed from the fecal matter.  Ideal for those with a shorter bowel due to surgery and advice from a medical professional is always advisable.  To reduce the risk of malabsorption induced diarrhea and steatorrhoea, both of which can lead to loss of valuable nutrients, the use of Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT) might need to be introduced as required by your NET specialist.

Have a look at Enterade – the results from trials look good.

enterade

Clearly, I cannot offer any professional medical advice on coping with diarrhea, I can only discuss my own situation and what I found worked for me. Don’t forget, like many diseases, what works for one, might not work for another. However, I did tackle my problems following the advice of an experienced dietitian who specialises in NET Cancer. That said, I was ‘sleep walking’ for over 2 years thinking my issues were just part of the way things were after my treatment.  I was wrong about that!

As for my own strategy,  here’s things that helped me:

  • made some changes to diet (they were not huge changes),
  • included supplementation where necessary,
  • reduced stress as far as is practical to do,
  • exercise,
  • maintained a diary to help with monitoring progress or setbacks,
  • hydration is also important (….still working on that one).
  • started taking PERT (Creon) on 23 Dec 2017 (changed to Nutrizym Feb 2019) but looks reasonably positive so far.

With no fancy and expensive drugs, I’ve gone from 6-8 visits to 1-2 visits (as a daily average, it’s actually 1.5).  This didn’t happen overnight though, it took a lot of time and patience.  All of this doesn’t mean to say I don’t have issues from time to time …… because I do!


In summary, I think it’s important that people be sure what is actually causing their diarrhea after diagnosis so that the right advice and the optimum treatment can be given.

Listen to Dr Wolin talking about this particular jigsaw puzzle – click here

Also see a nice article that come out of NANETS 2017 – click here

Of course, some people sometimes have the opposite effect but that’s in another blog here – Constipation

Thanks for reading

Ronny

I’m also active on Facebook. Like my page for even more news. I’m also building up this site here: Ronny Allan

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

Ronny Allan is an award winning patient leader and advocate for Neuroendocrine Cancer.

 

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Neuroendocrine Cancer Nutrition Series Part 4 – Food for Thought?

Food for thought

Nutrition is an important subject for many cancers but it is particularly important for Neuroendocrine Cancer.  In the previous parts of this series I focussed on the following:

Article 1 – Vitamin and Mineral Challenges.   This was co-authored by Tara Whyand, UK’s most experienced NET Specialist Dietician.  This blog provides a list of vitamins and minerals which NET Cancer patients are at risk for deficiencies, together with some of the symptoms which might be displayed in a deficiency scenario.

Article 2 – Malabsorption.  Overlapping slightly into Part 1, this covers the main side effects of certain NET surgical procedures and other mainstream treatments. Input from Tara Whyand.

Article 3 – ‘Gut Health’.  This followed on from the first two blogs looking specifically at the issues caused by small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) as a consequence of cancer treatment. Also discusses probiotics.  Input from Tara Whyand.

Article 5 – ‘Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy’. The role of PERT (Creon etc) in helping NET Patients. Input from Tara Whyand.

I said in Article 1 that my intention is not to tell you what to eat, even though that might be a challenge for many and this theme continues. The issue with Nutrition and Diet in general, is that it’s very individual and what works for one may not work for another. Rather I’d like to focus in on why such things might have an effect – patients can then experiment and see what works for them. NET patients may have multiple problems and issues (including the effects of eating) which people may be relating to their cancer or the effects of a particular syndrome or treatment (working that out can be difficult!).  Even if I link you to an authoritative site, it will most likely only show GENERAL GUIDELINES, since patients with NET Cancer should really be assessed on a case-by-case basis.  However, I can say that from personal experience, these guidelines are a good base to start in understanding the issue.  You should always seek professional advice from a reliable ‘NETs aware’ nutritionist that can help you determine what your nutritional needs are and also can guide you in the right direction regarding food and supplement intakes.  Be wary of the internet on diet and nutrition, there is much ‘quackery’ out there and normally they want to sell something regardless of whether it’s good for you or not.  Fake healthcare news is big business unfortunately.  You may also enjoy article 2 and article 3 of this series in internet dangers.

In this article, I want to cover the ‘knotty’ problem of what is in food that might be provoking a reaction and why.  The other thing I would emphasise is that the cause of ‘provocation’ might not just be from what you have eaten, but how much. Moreover, whether the cause is syndromic, due to treatment; or from a comorbidity. For example, if you’ve had classic small intestinal NET surgery, you’re likely to be missing a few feet of small intestine and at least your ascending colon and all that goes with that (i.e. you’ve had a right hemicolectomy).  It follows that your food might transit quicker than normal on its journey from mouth to toilet.  There are no doubt other issues which might cause you to ‘move quickly’ and most of these issues will have been covered in Series Articles 1, 2 and 3.  For those with Carcinoid Syndrome, you may also find my blog on the 5 E’s useful.

A high level of serotonin is something people might be looking to avoid due to its relationship with midgut NETs and in particular those with Carcinoid Syndrome. One thing I noticed is that experienced dietitians are not saying you must totally avoid foods associated with serotonin.  I say “associated” because serotonin is not found in foods (another NET myth), it is manufactured from the amines in food.  The only time dieticians would recommend staying totally away from these foods is before and during a 5HIAA urine test (5HIAA is a by-product of serotonin) as this could skew the results. Experienced NET dieticians will also tell you that amines in foods containing the precursor to Serotonin will not affect tumour growth.  

It’s not just a serotonin problem – it is actually a much wider issue with something ‘vasoactive amines’ (or pressor amines).  They are precursors for catecholamines such as adrenaline, which trigger some NETs to secrete vasoactive substances, which cause symptoms or in extreme cases, carcinoid crisis.  Tyramine is the most active of these amines. Other strongly active vasoactive amines found in food include histamine that can cause strong dilation of capillaries, and also cause hypertensive crisis.  Reported reactions from these vasoactive amines are acute hypertension, headache, palpitations, tachycardia, flushing and unconsciousness. As a general rule, Tyramine and other pressor amines are usually only present in aged, fermented, spoiled protein products, but quite often, it’s food containing a precursor amine that is what you are looking for (for example Tryptophan is a precursor to Serotonin).

Personally I cannot think of a single food which causes me to have a ‘reaction’ other than if I eat too much or eat something with a high fat content.  Basically for someone who has had abdominal surgery, the system cannot cope for one reason or more – see Series Article 2.   It’s important to distinguish this type of reaction which is actually something caused by the consequences of cancer treatment rather than one of the ‘syndrome’ effects .  The answer might simply be to reduce or adjust food intake rather than cut foods out, particularly foods that you may need for nutrition and energy.  And of course, foods you enjoy which don’t cause issues, are related to quality of life.

What I do know from masses of experimentation and running a diary, is that large meals can give me issues. However, as hinted above, I put that down to surgery – NOT syndrome.  I also reduced consumption of fatty foods but that was mainly to combat malabsorption caused by my surgery and exacerbated by Somatostatin Analogues. Again NOT syndrome. I reduced alcohol but mainly because I was concerned about my compromised liver after surgery.

So what are the most provocative foods?  This diagram here is extremely handy BUT I must emphasise that the cause of the provocation may not have been caused by the food itself, just what people think and reported (clearly scientific intervention might prove it was caused by something else).  Everyone is different, so some people might not have any reaction to these foods.  As you can see, a large meal is top and I can almost guarantee much of this was caused by people having a shorter bowel due to surgery.

foods provoking
Graphic courtesy of The Carcinoid Cancer Foundation (CCF)

What are the foods containing high levels of these vasoactive amines?  It is here that I refer you to a site which was one of the very first things I read after my diagnosis, and I re-read it after my initial treatment when I discovered that my debulking and cytoreductive surgery came with some consequences.   This is an amazing piece of research put together by the late Monica Warner (wife of Dr Richard Warner) who herself said “It has not been an easy task to put these guidelines together“.  I don’t believe there is another source of such detailed research and guidelines on the Nutritional Concerns for the NET Patient (note the term Carcinoid is used throughout, therefore it tends to be focused on carcinoid syndrome.  Many other NET Syndromes have associated diet and nutrition constraints and problems too.

This is not an exact science and as the author said “I must emphasize at this point that these are only GENERAL GUIDELINES since patients with carcinoid (sic) may have multiple problems and must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”. So for example eating a big meal comes out top of the survey and does not necessarily mean that is caused by carcinoid syndrome – as I said above, it’s very frequently caused by having a shorter gut, or no gallbladder, and other issues. You can eat a large meal containing very low levels of the offending amines and still run to the bathroom because your waste disposal system can’t cope with the amount – that is not a syndrome problem.  One person’s perceived ‘syndrome’ problem is another person’s cancer treatment ‘side effect’.  Working out which one is not easy but it’s worth the effort to try to understand which one might be causing the problem.

READ THE RESEARCH AND GUIDELINES BY CLICKING HERE

I hope you found my ‘food for thought’ tasty 🙂

Other useful links which have an association to this blog:

{a} Read a Nutrition Booklet co-authored by Tara – CLICK HERE

{b} Follow Tara on Twitter – CLICK HERE

{c} Watch a video of Tara presenting to a group of NET Patients – CLICK HERE

{d} Now Watch Tara answering the Q&A from patients – I enjoyed this – NET patients are very inquisitive! CLICK HERE

[e] There is an excellent video from the NET Research Foundation (what to eat and why) – CLICK HERE

 

You can hear me talk about my diagnosis by clicking here

Thanks for reading

Ronny

I’m also active on Facebook.  Like my page for even more news.  I’m also building up this site here: Ronny Allan

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My Diagnosis and Treatment History

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


Neuroendocrine Cancer Nutrition Series – Article 3 – Gut Health

OPINION.  Nutritional issues are one of the biggest challenges affecting most Neuroendocrine Cancer patients.  It is also a key factor in maintaining a decent quality of life and for most countries without adequate NET Specialist Dietitian support, it remains an unmet need. In this article, I’m discussing the use of probiotics to combat the potential issue of small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) in Neuroendocrine Tumours.  

When I first indicated this nutrition series was under construction, a few people got quite excited anticipating me to produce advice on what to eat.  However, that was never my intention. What people should or should not eat is such a varied problem (or solution?) that anything I said would only really be of help to those for whom it worked – this area is not an exact science. I’ve seen several ‘what to or not to eat’ publications/articles out there aimed at NET patients; some more up to date than others – all I would say is to interpret them carefully.

What my nutrition series actually covers is what causes the nutritional related issues and to a certain extent, try to work out how to tell if these issues are caused by either treatment or an associated syndrome, leaving fellow patients to make up their own minds about what to eat; or arm themselves with the necessary knowledge whether this applies to them or not.

The first two articles in the series were Article 1 – Vitamin and Mineral Challenges and Article 2 – Malabsorption. These remain popular and have a constants stream of views – no surprises as these are well known side effects of many types of NETs…… or at least they should be well known.

This particular article “Gut Health” is not as ‘clear cut’ or simple as the first two and I suggest you read Articles 1 and 2 first if you are not familiar with the issues.  Again I’m grateful to Tara Whyand (NET Specialist Dietician and researcher from Royal Free London) for some of the input below. Although I marked this with ‘Opinion’, some of it has references but I still decided to use ‘Opinion’ as the science is not yet 100%.

What is the “Gut” ?

When I first met my surgeon, I found one of his favourite words was ‘Gut‘.  Like me before diagnosis, many of you will have heard or used the word but in an intentionally non-medical context, e.g.  guts (bravery), ‘gut feeling’ or ‘gut instinct’ (intuition). I’ll return to that theme later but when you look at these contextual uses of the word, it’s no surprise why some scientists refer to our gut as a ‘second brain’.

I always thought the gut referred to just the ‘belly’ area but in medical parlance, the gut has a much bigger geography.  It is sometimes used interchangeably with the term Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract and stretches from the throat to the anus and is responsible (in the most general terms) for food intake, digestion/absorption,  waste processing and finally waste ejection.  NET patients should be familiar with the terms ‘foregut’, ‘midgut’ and ‘hindgut’ which are sometimes used to define the embryological origin and grouping of Neuroendocrine primary tumours, although the boundaries and constituent parts can vary from site to site.  The inclusion of certain anatomical locations as a sub-section of the gut is clearly for convenience rather than anatomical accuracy (e.g. Lung).

This is a massive subject but I wanted to ‘cut to the chase’ in this article and focus on the use of probiotics to combat the potential issue of small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) in Neuroendocrine Tumours.  The symptoms and signs of SIBO can be similar to they symptoms and side effects of treatment that many patients report anecdotally on patient forums.  I also found the science is complex and not really 100% tied down.

Probiotics

One of the first pieces of advice I was given after my initial surgery was to take probiotics – to keep up my stocks of ‘good’ bacteria.  I didn’t really understand why, I just complied. I started with the liquid drinks you can buy in most supermarkets and supplemented this by eating bioactive yoghurt.  I didn’t really notice any difference from either but the yoghurt was nice to eat!

Tara Whyand then confirmed this advice when I first met her in 2012 at a NET Patient conference.  In 2013 when I started looking for a new normal, I realised that the supermarket drinks and yoghurts were simply not enough good bacteria for my ‘new plumbing’, and decided to take a high-grade daily capsule containing 5 billion friendly bacteria multiple strains (Tara does recommend at least 2 billion and multiple strain).  Within weeks I was noticing a difference in bowel motility although I confess to changing other elements of my lifestyle at the same time given that I was embarking on finding my new normal.  Nonetheless, I sense probiotics are helping and I won’t be reducing or stopping them any time soon.  If you look at several NET specific dietician/nutrition presentations, most appear to promote the use of probiotics for NET patients.

Bacteria

One of the terms you find in this complex area is the ‘human gut microbiota‘, sometimes known as ‘gut flora‘. Our ‘gut’ harbours a complex community of over 100 trillion microbial cells, approx 3% of our body mass! The human gut microbiota is known to have an influence on every part of our body (including the brain…..) and disruption of this ‘community’ has been linked with several gastrointestinal conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and obesity.

Probiotics are said to help keep the balance and mix of bacteria stable within the gut which can be affected by many different factors, including the use of antibiotics, aging, illnesses (such as IBD), following infective gastroenteritis and (of interest to NET patients) after cancer treatment or gastrointestinal surgery. {1}  Incidentally, the reference here is authored by Tara Whyand and Professor Martyn Caplin (a Neuroendocrine Tumour expert who also happens to be a Gastroenterologist). Useful reading if you have any of the conditions in the report or have had gut surgery (or like me you are a total geek!).  They are also frequently used in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

Another interesting area of research into something called Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), a condition where the small intestine is populated by an abnormal amount and/or types of bad bacteria. It follows that probiotics (good bacteria) may be useful in combatting this by helping to maintain balance.

So how does SIBO potentially and specifically affect NET patients?

  • It can be caused or exacerbated by abdominal surgery to stomach, duodenum, pancreas or via whipples, small & large intestine,
  • poorly controlled diabetes,
  • the long-term use of Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI) (e.g. omeprazole and lansoprazole, etc). Several studies link to these drugs including this one,
  • possibly long term use of antibiotics which can kill good bacteria.Some evidence of surgical involvement can be found here – this link – particularly the bit about the prevalence of patients who have had an “abdominal surgery” or an “Ileocaecal valve resection”.  I guess that would include many NET patients?  (this is a big article so just focus on table 1 near the beginning).

Symptoms vary for everyone from watery diarrhoea suddenly starting 20 times a day to just bloating and wind in both directions, to nothing at all.  These symptoms are regularly reported by patients so working out the root cause might need some professional help.

Is there any testing for SIBO?

There is a test to check for SIBO is called the Hydrogen breath test. This test uses lactulose ingestion to measure the hydrogen in the breath. If SIBO is diagnosed, treatment is normally via antibiotics. However, advice is to leave a 2 hour gap between taking probiotics and antibiotics and a high dose multi-strain probiotic should be applied.  Our friend Tara has done some work on this alongside Professor Martyn Caplin which was featured at ENETS 2017.

ENETS Research – Assessment of Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) in NET Patients Abstract #1698

Introduction: SIBO is not uncommon in NETs. Hydrogen Breath testing (HBT) using glucose may be more sensitive to proximal SIBO as glucose rarely reaches the colon. Many NET patients are likely to have distal SIBO however, as factors such as ileocecal valve removal apparently increase distal SIBO risk. Thus glucose BT alone may limit sensitivity for detecting SIBO in some NET diagnoses.

Aim(s): Assess likely risk factors for SIBO. Assess sensitivity of additional lactulose HBT and CH4 BT.

Materials and methods: Retrospective data (n=55) of NET patients undergoing HBT was examined. Twelve patients (12/55) who tested negative for glucose HBT but continued to have diarrhoea +/- wind had repeat BT using lactulose. These patients had both H2 & CH4 BT.

Results:
Midgut NET diagnoses were most frequently referred for BT (n=43, 78%). Twenty four (24/55, 44 %) had prior right hemicolectomy. Ten (10/24 ,42%) of those were SIBO positive. Ten patients were positive for HBT prior to being given the glucose substrate, they all had abdominal surgery in the past. Twelve patients who tested negative for glucose HBT had repeat testing using lactulose and measured both H2 and CH4 production. This led to an additional 3 (25%) positive results.

Conclusion:
Abdominal surgery, especially right hemicolectomy increases the likelihood of a positive glucose HBT. Glucose may still be sensitive in those with risk factors for distal SIBO. Additional lactulose use with H2 and CH4 measurement increases the sensitivity in diagnosing SIBO.

Conference:
14th Annual ENETS conference (2017)
Presenting Author: Tara Whyand

Keywords: nets, sibo, dysbiosis

My own Experience

I personally take a 5 billion dosage and am happy to recommend the source offline. However, in addition to obtaining from a reputable provider (i.e. in UK, MHRA approved supplier), there is evidence to suggest as long as it has some or all of the following strains that are widely available, they should provide benefit: Lactobaccilus plantarum, Lactobaccilus acidophilus, Lactobaccilus brevis, Bifidobacterium lactis and Bifidobacterium longum.

This article could have been 10 x longer!  I didn’t even get to the bit about the relationship between the gut and the brain – perhaps another day?

None of this should be considered medical advice.

Article 1 – Vitamin and Mineral Challenges.   This was co-authored by Tara Whyand, UK’s most experienced NET Specialist Dietician.  This blog provides a list of vitamins and minerals which NET Cancer patients are at risk for deficiencies, together with some of the symptoms which might be displayed in a deficiency scenario.

Article 2 – Malabsorption.  Overlapping slightly into Part 1, this covers the main side effects of certain NET surgical procedures and other mainstream treatments. Input from Tara Whyand.

Article 3 – ‘Gut Health’.  This followed on from the first two blogs looking specifically at the issues caused by small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) as a consequence of cancer treatment. Also discusses probiotics.  Input from Tara Whyand.

Article 4 – Food for Thought.  This is a blog about why certain types of foods or particular foodstuffs can cause issues.

Article 5 – ‘Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy’. The role of PERT (Creon etc) in helping NET Patients. Input from Tara Whyand.

You may also appreciate these articles where there is overlap:

The Diarrhea Jigsaw – different things can cause diarrhea, it’s not all about syndromes.

The Constipated NET Patient – yes they exist!

Very grateful to Tara for the input.

Other useful links which have an association to this blog:

{a} Read a Nutrition Booklet co-authored by Tara – CLICK HERE

{b} Follow Tara on Twitter – CLICK HERE

{c} Watch a video of Tara presenting to a group of NET Patients – CLICK HERE

{d} Now Watch Tara answering the Q&A from patients – I enjoyed this – NET patients are very inquisitive! CLICK HERE

Thanks for listening

Neuroendocrine Cancer Nutrition Series Article 1 – Vitamin and Mineral Challenges

Vitamins & minerals
Vitamins & minerals – the biggest QoL challenge for NET Patients?

Despite learning early on in my journey that nutrition was going to be a challenge, I sensed the initial focus of my treatment was on getting rid of as much tumour bulk as possible and then controlling (stabilising) the disease through monitoring and surveillance. Clearly I’m happy about that! However, it eventually became clear that the impact of this constant treatment/controlling, meant that some of the less obvious signs of nutrient deficiency were potentially being missed.

This is one of the key reasons I believe there is a gap in specialist follow on support for Neuroendocrine Cancer patients – at least in the UK. As I said in my article ‘I may be stable but I still need support, Neuroendocrine Cancer patients need specialist dietary and nutritional advice covering a much wider spectrum than most cancer patients. In this post, I also suggested that there does not appear to be enough research or support into these issues leaving many patients working out their own strategies post diagnosis and treatment.  However, I was delighted to see a study published in 2016 indicating a recognition of this problem.  The paper (click here), which was sponsored by ENETS Centres of Excellence (CoE) in UK, concluded that “Given the frequency of patients identified at malnutrition risk using MUST (malnutrition universal screening tool) in our relatively large and diverse GEP-NET cohort and the clinical implications of detecting malnutrition early, we recommend routine use of malnutrition screening in all patients with GEP-NET, and particularly in patients who are treated with long-acting somatostatin analogues“.  This amplifies the advice Tara has given many NET Patients in UK that regular blood checks of key vitamins at risk, particularly B12 and the fat-soluble ADEK (see more on this below).  Even those patients with very healthy diets can still succumb to these issues. Looking at the vast number of forum posts on this subject, perhaps this is also a problem outside of UK?

This is not just about what foods to avoid or eat in moderation, this is also about:

a. receipt of post surgical/treatment advice,

b. early knowledge and countermeasures for the side effects of ongoing and long-term treatment,

c. the intelligent use of supplements where they are applicable,

d. how to combat, treat or offset malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies caused by the complexities of their cancer and any treatment given.  Check out Blog 2 in this series which specfically looks at Malabsorption.  

e. how to deconflict these side effects with those of the various syndromes which can sometimes accompany Neuroendocrine Cancer.

In early 2011, shortly after my first major surgery and commencement of my monthly somatostatin analogue – Lanreotide (Somatuline), I started to notice a number of issues developing. I carefully searched for clues and I could see that some of my issues pointed to side effects from treatment (both from surgery and somatostatin analogues) and potentially some vitamin and mineral deficiencies. I had already been taking an ‘over 50‘ multivitamin tablet for some time before I was diagnosed and assumed I was already covered. Having analysed the issues I was experiencing at the time, I was specifically targeting B12 and my initial test score was just in range (i.e borderline). Surprisingly my multivitamin B12 content was 400% RDA – yet my blood test was borderline. That might explain some of the fatigue!

I later attended a fantastic patient day where I was introduced to the UK’s solitary Neuroendocrine Cancer specialist dietician (this was in 2012, things are improving in 2019). This subject was a revelation for me and I was alerted to the possibility that other vitamins and minerals could be at risk due to a combination of surgery and/or treatment, in particular the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, K. Following a hastily arranged series of blood tests, I found my Vitamin D was insufficient and this has now been resolved through additional supplementation and more effort to absorb it through conventional means (i.e. the sun!).

I’m now on top of this issue through learning, understanding and basically becoming my own advocate. Please note this is a massive subject and the amount of information on the internet can be overwhelming.  Additionally, it is not an exact science and not everything will apply to every person.  Personally I would stick to sites where the advice is given by a nutritionist/dietician who is also experienced with Neuroendocrine Cancer.

I’m thankful to Tara Whyand who is an Oncology Dietician specialising in Neuroendocrine Cancer at the Royal Free Hospital.  Her research, advice and raising of these issues at patient meetings has been invaluable. As the only specialist in the UK (that I know of), she gets a lot of queries!  If you’re on twitter, you can follow Tara here:

https://twitter.com/LadyNourish

Even though I’ve had to limit this post to vitamin and mineral issues, it’s still much larger than what I normally produce.  Consequently, I’m planning further blogs on associated and overlapping subjects.

In the meantime, I’m very grateful to Tara for the input below:

——————————————————————————————–

NET Patients are at Risk of Deficiencies

Over the past few years I have become more aware of vitamin and mineral deficiencies in NET patients, and the impact these can have on health and quality of life. When the focus of NET treatment is on eradicating and controlling the disease, the impact on nutrition, apart from obvious weight loss, means less obvious signs of micronutrient deficiency can be missed. Below is a list of nutrients which are those most at risk of becoming low enough to cause problems. It is important that the treatment of these deficiencies is discussed with your NET team so they can prescribe suitable doses.

Minerals

Magnesium

Magnesium blood tests are an unreliable measurement and there is no way of accurately measuring body stores.

Magnesium is a vital mineral required for the function structure of the human body. Prevalence of low blood magnesium levels varies from 7% to 11% in hospital patients and clinical magnesium deficiency is frequently observed in conditions causing steatorrhoea or severe chronic diarrhoea, and the degree of magnesium depletion correlates with the severity of diarrhoea and stool fat content. Signs of deficiency include low energy, fatigue, weakness, PMS, menstrual cramps, hormonal imbalance, insomnia, bone mineral density loss, muscle tension, spasms, cramps, cardiac arrhythmia, headaches, anxiousness, nervousness and irritability. If you think you could be deficient you must ensure you consume enough magnesium (375mg per day).

Zinc

Zinc levels are best measured using a combination of blood serum and urinary excretion levels.

Zinc affects the human body through a large number of channels affecting not only cell division, protein synthesis and growth, but also gene expression and a variety of reproductive and immunologic functions. Zinc deficiency is common in undernourished patients. The absence of sufficient levels of zinc in the human body is associated with a large number of adverse health outcomes, including lower immunity, alopecia, tiredness and impaired wound healing. If you are at risk of deficiency make sure you consume enough zinc (10mg per day). If you are clinically deficient your diet must be supplemented.

Iron

Iron deficiency (hypoferremia) and clinical iron deficiency anaemia is easily measured with a simple blood test.

Iron is essential for the formation of haemoglobin in red blood cells which binds oxygen and transports it around the body. Iron is also an essential component in many enzyme reactions and has an important role in the immune system. In addition, it is required for normal energy metabolism and for the metabolism of drugs and foreign substances that need to be removed from the body. Lower iron levels are common in NET patients and there may be several causes of this. Poor iron intake, dietary iron absorption-regulating factors (e.g., vitamin C and copper) or iron distribution factors (e.g. vitamin A), are believed to be causes. Patients may also lose iron due to blood loss from the bowel in intestinal or rectal NETs or after surgery. It may also be possible that diarrhoea in NETs causes malabsorption of iron in the intestine too. Symptoms include tiredness, paleness, thinning hair, impaired immunity and feeling breathless. If you are at risk of having lower than normal iron levels you must consume enough iron (14mg per day). If you are clinically deficient your diet must be supplemented.

Copper

Diagnosis of copper deficiency is based on low serum levels of copper and ceruloplasmin, although these tests are not always reliable.

Copper is an essential trace mineral that is required for human health. This micronutrient is necessary for the proper growth, development, and maintenance of bone, connective tissue, brain, heart, and many other body organs. Copper is involved in the formation of red blood cells, the absorption and utilization of iron and the synthesis and release of life-sustaining proteins and enzymes. These enzymes in turn produce cellular energy and regulate nerve transmission, blood clotting, and oxygen transport. Copper stimulates the immune system to fight infections, to repair injured tissues, and to promote healing. Copper also has an antioxidant effect against oxidative stress.  Gastrointestinal surgery can lead to malabsorption of copper and other micronutrients. Long term malabsorption of food from the gastrointestinal tract can also lead to copper deficiency which puts many more NET patients at risk.  Symptoms of deficiency include neutropenia, impaired bone calcification, myelopathy, neuropathy, and hypochromic anemia not responsive to iron supplements. If you are at risk of lower than normal levels of copper you must consume enough (1mg per day). If you are clinically deficient your diet must be supplemented.

Selenium

Selenium levels are measured using plasma selenium blood tests.

Selenium is an essential micronutrient in humans and functions in many biochemical pathways. Proposed antioxidant pathways of selenium, include the repair and prevention of oxidative damage, alteration of metabolism of carcinogenic agents, regulation of immune response and repair of DNA damage. It works alongside vitamin E and selenium levels are often low during cancer and in patients on long-term intravenous nutrition.  Symptoms of deficiency include muscle pain and tenderness.  Everyone is required to have 55 µg a day and if you are clinically deficient your diet will need to be supplemented.

Water Soluble Vitamins

B1-Thiamine

Thiamine is not usually tested as diagnosis is based on symptoms and a trial of thiamine supplementation. If a doctor is unsure, they will measure erythrocyte transketolase activity and run a 24-hour urinary thiamine excretion.

Vitamin B1, or thiamine is an essential B vitamin which is required for the breakdown of sugars and amino acids. Absorption of thiamine is greatest in the jejunum and ileum, but it is it is inhibited by alcohol consumption and by folic acid deficiency. The most common cause of deficiency is alcoholism, although states causing malabsorption such as gastrointestinal surgery are also a factor. It may also be possible that diarrhoea causing malabsorption of nutrients from the intestines could put a patient at NET patient at risk of deficiency. Symptoms initially include fatigue, irritability, poor memory, sleep disturbances, anorexia, and abdominal discomfort. When more severe it involves hospitalisation due the effects on the nervous system and heart.

Patients who are at risk of deficiency must consume enough thiamine (1.1mg thiamine per day). Patients who are deficient must have their diet supplemented.

B3-Niacin

Niacin is not usually tested but may be useful to confirm diagnosis using urinary excretion of N 1 -methylnicotinamide (NMN).

Niacin also refers to both nicotinamide and nicotinic acid and is required as part of the way energy is produced by the body.  When carcinoid tumours produce hormones such as serotonin, these patients suffer from carcinoid syndrome. These are symptoms such as flushing, diarrhoea, wheezing and damage to heart valves (carcinoid heart disease). When the tumours make large amounts of serotonin, the amino acid, tryptophan, gets used up. When tryptophan stores are low it cannot be converted into the vitamin niacin, which may then cause deficiency. In a NET study, 28 per cent of patients with gastroenteropancreatic /carcinoid tumours and carcinoid syndrome were niacin deficient. Patients without carcinoid syndrome did not have niacin deficiency.  Niacin deficiency can also be caused by cirrhosis and diarrhea. Niacin deficiency leads to pellagra, the typical symptoms of which are diarrhea, dermatitis and dementia. All patients with carcinoid syndrome must take a nicotinamide containing supplement to treat and prevent this deficiency and it is a good idea to get enough niacin if you are at risk of deficiency for other reasons (approximately 40mg nicotinamide a day). Niacin or niacinamide may cause flushing!

B6-Pyridoxine

Vitamin levels are not usually tested but measurement of serum pyridoxal phosphate is most commonly used.

Vitamin B6 comprises 3 forms: pyridoxine, pyridoxal and pyridoxamine, and has a central role in the metabolism of amino acids. It is involved in the breaking down of glycogen into glucose. In addition, vitamin B6 plays a key role in metabolism of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, and it ensures efficient functioning of the immune system and making of red blood cells. The symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency are local inflammation of the skin and dysfunction of the nervous system. Some NET patients may be at risk of deficiency due to malabsorption in the intestines and undernutrition.  If you are worried you may have lower levels make sure you consume enough (1.4mg per day). If you are deficient you diet must be supplemented.

B9-Folate

Serum folate reflects folate status unless intake has recently increased or decreased.

Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. It is used in supplements and for food fortification. Folate functions together with vitamin B12 to form healthy red blood cells. It is also required for normal cell division and the normal structure of the nervous system.  It is possible to become deficient in folate due to malabsorption of nutrients in the intestine through diarrhoea and other malabsorption states such as surgery. If you are worried you may be at risk of deficiency ensure you get enough folate/folic acid (200 µg per day). If you are deficient your diet will need to be supplemented.

B12-Cobalamin

Vitamin B 12 must be measured alongside complete blood count and folate levels.

Cobalamin plays a role in DNA synthesis and regenerates methionine for protein synthesis. Low vitamin B12 levels have been observed in NET patients receiving somatostatin analogues and therefore monitoring of vitamin B12 levels is important during long-term therapy. Vitamin B12 deficiency has also been found to be common in type 1 gastric carcinoid NETs after Antrectomy and/or Gastrectomy. Patients with diseased or surgically removed ileums (end of the small bowel) and those who have bacterial overgrowth in the area are also at risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency. In addition, patients with insufficient pancreatic enzymes are also at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency as they play a key role in the steps before absorption occurs. If you are worried your levels may be low you must consume 2.5µg a day. If you are clinically deficient your diet must be supplemented, usually with regular injections.

Fat Soluble Vitamins

A, D, E and K

Somatostatin Analogues (Octreotide and Lanreotide) based injection treatments for a variety of NETs may cause deficiencies in some vitamins. This is because they may alter absorption of dietary fats which contain vitamins. Enzymes are usually released from the pancreas to break down nutrients such as fat, but pancreatic enzyme release can be reduced when somatostatin analogue medications are given.  When fat is not broken down properly, stools become pale/yellow, loose, greasy, foul-smelling or frothy and floating –‘steatorrhoea’. Your precious vitamins therefore end up in your toilet instead. One study followed 54 patients, who mostly had carcinoid tumours and were on somatostatin analogues for at least 18 months. It found that only one fifth of patients had visible steatorrhoea, but 6% were deficient in vitamin A, 28% deficient in D, 58% in E and 63% in K1. This shows that even if you don’t have visible signs of steatorrhoea, you may still be deficient in one or more vitamin!

A-Retinol

Serum retinol blood tests are the means of measuring vitamin A in the body.

Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin absorbed through the small intestine either as retinol or carotene, and then converted to retinyl palmitate which is stored in the liver. Normally the liver contains a 2 year store of vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency has a wide range of ocular manifestations including conjunctival and corneal xerosis, keratomalacia, retinopathy, visual loss, and nyctalopia, or night blindness, which is the earliest and most common symptom. If you are worried about having low levels make sure you consume enough (800 µg per day). If you are deficient your diet will need to be supplemented.

D 3 –cholecalciferol

Your 25(OH)D levels can be measured with a simple blood test.

Cholecalciferol is a nutrient and hormone. Recent evidence for the non-skeletal effects (those apart from bone mineralisation) of vitamin D, coupled with recognition that vitamin D deficiency is common, has revived interest in this vitamin. Low vitamin D levels are linked to higher rates of several other cancers. Vitamin D is produced by skin exposed to ultraviolet B radiation and obtained from dietary sources, including supplements. Persons commonly at risk for vitamin D deficiency include those with inadequate sun exposure, limited oral intake, or impaired intestinal absorption from the diet (as above). The most recent evidence actually points out that the sun is not to be relied on as a source of vitamin D and oral intake is important. If you are worried you may have low levels you must speak with your doctor to arrange supplementation with or without a test.

E- α-tocopherol

Vitamin E can be tested by looking at the α-tocopherol level or ratio of serum α-tocopherol to serum lipids.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can be regenerated by vitamin C after oxidation in the human body. It prevents damage of polyunsaturated fatty acids in cellular membranes. Signs of deficiency include dry skin and neurological symptoms. If you think you may have low levels make sure you consume enough (12mg per day). If you are deficient your diet will have to be supplemented.

K- Phylloquinone

Vitamin K deficiency can be measured by looking at the prothrombin time.

Phylloquinone is required for blood clotting and deficiency results in bleeding. Since this deficiency is common in patients with fat malabsorption due to severe liver disease and somatostatin analogue treatment it is important that you consume enough (75 µg per day). If you are clinically deficient you will need to receive supplementation.

Summary

Of course these are only the nutrients which are at risk of deficiency, there are many other nutrients and botanical extracts which may help patients with NET’s. It is vital that nutrition is considered for every patient with a NET and we hope one day each NET unit will have NET Specialist Dietitian to make this possible.

It is vital that nutrition is considered


Links to the other nutrition blogs:

Article 2 – Gastrointestinal Malabsorption.  Overlapping slightly into Article 1, this covers the main side effects of certain NET surgical procedures and other mainstream treatments. Input from Tara Whyand.

Article 3 – Gut Health.  This followed on from the first two blogs looking specifically at the issues caused by small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) as a consequence of cancer treatment. Also discussed probiotics.  Input from Tara Whyand.

Article 4 – Food for Thought.  This is a blog about why certain types of foods or particular foodstuffs can cause issues.

Article 5 – ‘Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy’. The role of PERT (Creon etc) in helping NET Patients.

You may also appreciate these articles where there is overlap:

The Diarrhea Jigsaw – different things can cause diarrhea, it’s not all about syndromes.

The Constipated NET Patient – yes they exist!

Very grateful to Tara for the input.

Other useful links which have an association to this blog:

{a} Read a Nutrition Booklet co-authored by Tara – CLICK HERE

{b} Follow Tara on Twitter – CLICK HERE

{c} Watch a video of Tara presenting to a group of NET Patients – CLICK HERE

{d} Now Watch Tara answering the Q&A from patients – I enjoyed this – NET patients are very inquisitive! CLICK HERE

Thanks for listening

Ronny

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I may be stable (..ish) but I still need support and surveillance


cancer-patient-support

With incurable but treatable cancers such as metastatic Neuroendocrine Cancer, ‘Stable‘ is normally not the end of the matter, for many there is still a long road ahead and that road may not be straight or flat. The long road may be considered an advantage by some given that with very aggressive cancers, incurable can frequently mean terminal.  The surveillance must continue in case of a recurrence.

It’s important to understand that ‘Stable‘ simply means the disease is “under control” with tests and scans showing the cancer hasn’t changed over time.

One of the disadvantages of ‘incurable but treatable‘ is that Quality of Life (QoL) can in many cases be compromised due to the consequences of cancer and /or treatment. However, if specialist treatment, surveillance and support are all in place, things can gradually be adjusted to a new and hopefully tolerable ‘normal’. 

I also believe patient expectations need to be managed although improvements are still possible.  In my own experience, however, this does not happen overnight. Patients must be willing to accept a new normal or status quo on the basis that things are never likely to be the same again. Many patients with chronic conditions will have minor irritants and Neuroendocrine Cancer patients are no exception in this regard. 

HOWEVER …….. The specialist view of ‘stable’ will be looking at tumour and hormone makers.  The patient is likely to have a much wider view of ‘stable’ and it will include ‘quality of life’ markers. 

So ….what is stable for me?

Looking at my medical documents, I was not really considered ‘stable’ by specialists until 2 years after diagnosis. The measure of that is in scans and markers.  Nothing has grown since 2012 although I have a thyroid lesion being tracked on watch and wait.  My key NET markers have been solidly in range since 2012.  Today, my on-going monthly treatments are well organised, I’m in touch with my specialists and undergo several surveillance checks beforehand every 6 months currently. I get regular/normal illnesses and those are logged in my diary to look for any clues or associations with anything else. In between consultations, I can call in for urgent help if need be. Irregularities of concern to my ‘stability’ are checked, referred to other specialists if necessary and treated.  I feel well, I look well (but you should see my insides ….). I think I’m on top of things.

I think the UK (for example) is very well serviced with district NET Centres across the country each with specialists in Neuroendocrine Cancer and most include a dedicated NET Specialist Nurse – some areas are better served than others. In my opinion, NET Nurses can prove invaluable in on-going care scenarios. In fact, I was very pleased to see a NET Nurse attending and taking a greater role in my most recent MDT meetings.  I’m fairly certain other countries have similar setups.  Some countries may not be so fortunate and are struggling to get the right resources – I can see this on one or two ‘corporate’ Facebook and Twitter sites. Specialist NET Nurses are an extremely valuable commodity – they do brilliant work and we probably need more!  The same could be said for NET Specialist Dietitians who are key to providing quality of life improvements. In fact, I was delighted to see this recommendation at ENETS 2018 in Barcelona. 

recommend dietitians
More dietitians for NETs?

OK … I may be stable (ish) but I still need support!

However ……. my stability does NOT mean I’m complacent.  For minor issues, it’s always useful to talk to a medical professional, even on the telephone. I think of my GP (PCP) as a ‘virtual’ member of my Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) and I copy them into any important correspondence between myself and my Oncologist.  They are normally copied in coming the other way (if not I make sure they are). This is starting to return dividends. Whilst my GP is positioned to deal with most of my ‘irritants’, I still believe specialist assistance is required for many NET Cancer problems or any problem where there is potentially an overlap or risk of a connection. Being your own advocate is useful in these scenarios.  Patient-doctor communication is vital and I find it best to drive this myself. I’m lucky to have direct ‘as and when’ contact a specialist NET Nurse.  All NET patients should have the same.

The best advocate for you is YOU (or someone very close to you)

Although I still need constant surveillance, being stable allows me to focus on QoL and in particular trying to improve on my ‘normal’.  Whilst we are on that subject, did you hear the one about the constipated NET patient?  This article contains a summary of my attempts to gain a decent quality of life.

Although I read patient forums, I don’t necessarily rely on them a lot for my own issues. On sporadic one-off forum questions (…..and not forgetting that hundreds of symptom questions are related to ‘the gut’), the discussions can end up with many different and confusing answers. Plus there are so many patients who are at varying stages of their disease, use different types of healthcare systems, have had different treatments and have different types of NET, have other issues going on, it can end up as a tangled mess as people try to compare apples with pears.  To help with this issue, I created my own private Facebook group and I try to emphasise these issues through moderation. 

I will not compare myself to strangers on the internet
remember all patients are different

I like to do my own research as I want to be in control of my own QoL.  One of the most troublesome QoL issues for patients is diet and the digestive system generally (i.e. managing the gut). For many NET patients, particularly those who have had surgery and/or persisting syndrome, diet and nutrition is a  huge challenge as it can very often mimic other problems which can present with a wide range of ‘syndrome like’ symptoms such as fatigue, weight issues and even anxiety. More somatostatin analogues and other drugs might just be the wrong response in certain scenarios. I feel there is a huge gap in the follow-up treatment for people who suffer this as a consequence of their cancer. For example, and to the best of my knowledge, there is only a few dedicated and practicing Neuroendocrine specialist dietician in the whole of the UK (…..I’m willing to be corrected here). Some of you might be thinking that any dietician should be able to help? Although you would be correct to a certain extent, I personally do not believe this is the best or optimum solution. There are very specific issues with NET Cancer patients that are bespoke and complex to the point that conventional cancer diet practices may not fully apply. It’s not just about what you eat………..

NET Cancer patients need specialist dietary advice covering the whole spectrum from diet itself to the use of supplements where required, post-surgical advice, managing the long-term side effects of treatment, combatting and treating malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies caused by the complexities of their cancer or the consequences of their treatment. Personally, I think more resources and research in this area would be useful.

This gap is one of the reasons why I asked Tara Whyand (a dietician with specialist Neuroendocrine Cancer knowledge) to help me co-author a series of blogs to focus in on a few key areas.  I didn’t want to say what someone should or should not do, I wanted to say why this is an area to watch.  The ‘why‘ is important as it helps you in your efforts to distinguish the effects of a syndrome or a co-morbidity from the effects of your treatment (if applicable).  I find this knowledge helps me to think ‘outside the box’ rather than just accepting ‘it’s the syndrome.  I personally feel I’ve been able to harness this knowledge to improve my QoL.

Article 1 – Vitamin and Mineral Challenges

Article 2 – Malabsorption

Article 3 – Gut Health

Article 4 – Food for Thought

Article 5 – Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT) (includes a Q & A session with Tara Whyand)

The following blogs may complement this nutrition series:

The Diarrhea Jigsaw

The Constipated NET patient

Serotonin

I now take food with my pills

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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