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Since I started blogging, I’ve had to become quite savvy at forming headlines for my posts as the wording can be a factor in whether someone reads it or not. A post picture can also influence. There’s a third factor and that is credibility – I’d like to think I’ve worked hard to earn that level of trust in my ‘product’. I use the NET to talk about NETs! I’m a genuine guy with a genuine purpose and I don’t want to sell you anything – my ‘product’ is free.
However, the ‘NET’ can also provide ‘misinformation’. Unfortunately ‘misinformation’ also includes ‘alleged’ cures for various ailments including cancer. I think we’ve all been there, we check twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc and we find the ubiquitous miracle cures for every illness under the sun, annoying shared by our friends. Easy to find, easy to read and worryingly, easy to share. Surely these cures must be true, after all…..it’s on the ‘NET’.
I was, therefore, delighted to see that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently posted warning letters addressed to 14 U.S.-based companies illegally selling more than 65 products that fraudulently claim to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure cancer. The products are marketed and sold without FDA approval, most commonly on websites and social media platforms. Clearly, this is not just a USA problem, I suspect you all could tell me similar stories from your own countries? I just read a story from my own local area only last week. This is only the tip of the iceberg though!
Most of these claims are from obscure unheard of websites (clue 1) and yet they claim to have the cure for all sorts of illness including cancer (clue 2). They normally have a product to sell (clue 3). Clue 4 and onwards can be found by digging into their claims to see if there is any scientific evidence – normally there’s none but read about their tactics below…… Here are some of the tactics they use plus a commentary from the US FDA:
One product does it all. Be suspicious of products that claim to cure a wide range of diseases. A New York firm claimed its products marketed as dietary supplements could treat or cure senile dementia, brain atrophy, atherosclerosis, kidney dysfunction, gangrene, depression, osteoarthritis, dysuria, and lung, cervical and prostate cancer. In October 2012, at FDA’s request, U.S. marshals seized these products.
Personal testimonials. Success stories, such as, “It cured my diabetes” or “My tumors are gone,” are easy to make up and are not a substitute for scientific evidence.
Quick fixes. Few diseases or conditions can be treated quickly, even with legitimate products. Beware of language such as, “Lose 30 pounds in 30 days” or “eliminates skin cancer in days.”
“All natural.” Some plants found in nature (such as poisonous mushrooms) can kill when consumed. Moreover, FDA has found numerous products promoted as “all natural” but that contain hidden and dangerously high doses of prescription drug ingredients or even untested active artificial ingredients.
“Miracle cure.” Alarms should go off when you see this claim or others like it such as, “new discovery,” “scientific breakthrough” or “secret ingredient.” If a real cure for a serious disease were discovered, it would be widely reported through the media and prescribed by health professionals—not buried in print ads, TV infomercials or on Internet sites.
Conspiracy theories. Claims like “The pharmaceutical industry and the government are working together to hide information about a miracle cure” are always untrue and unfounded. These statements are used to distract consumers from the obvious, common-sense questions about the so-called miracle cure.
The rise of the internet means that we need to be very careful what we believe, particularly when the term ‘fake news’ is abundant. The people who work in this ‘dark’ industry are very clever, playing on the mind and fears of those who suffer from cancer and other illnesses which they claim they can cure. Many of them are easy to spot or at least attract your suspicion as you can see above. I’m concerned that some of them make their way onto patient forums unchallenged by the administrators (leave those groups, they are a danger to your health). Here’s something you’re probably not aware of….. I am targeted weekly by people and organisations who want me to advertise their ‘product’ to you guys, some of them are very dubious indeed. I have a “no selling” rule on my site so it’s easy for me to reject anyone approaching me in this way – the very dubious are blocked immediately.
See an article where this blog was featured …… Click Here
I will never share this sort of thing on my site and I even check official looking mainstream media articles for the background scientific data before I would share here. For me, regardless of the headline or post picture, this is where credibility comes in. Often (whilst everyone else is sharing), I wait on informed comment from credible organisations such as Cancer Research UK who very frequently have to dampen down the excitement caused by mainstream media ‘headlines’ by providing a more balanced and evidence based view. I’ve blogged before about Cancer Research UK in the post The trouble with the NET (Part 1), The trouble with the NET (Part 2) (with mention of Steve Jobs and Neuroendocrine Cancer). I particularly like their blog 10 persistent cancer myths debunked.
Sharon said …… “This is SO important. As an RN and a NET patient, I am appalled by some of the things I see on Facebook. People facing chronic or terminal illnesses are so vulnerable. Thank you, Ronny Allan”
Be careful out there – it’s dangerous!
Thanks for reading
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On the day I was diagnosed, I hadn’t really thought about questions, the only one I actually remember asking was “how long do I have left to live” (I watch too many movies!). On the day of diagnosis and a period beyond, people tend to feel emotions of shock, denial, anger and sadness, before going on to accept their situation. Yes, I ‘googled‘ but not a great deal really – although some things I found did frighten me.
As things progressed in the weeks after ‘D-Day’, I started to work out the sort of things to ask but even then it was limited. I had been referred to an experienced NET team so I felt confident they would do whatever needed doing. In hindsight, I can now think of a quite a few questions I should have asked. That said, I suspect my team probably gave me the answers without having been asked the questions!
My blogging efforts have turned into a ‘Community’ of sorts and my ‘internet footprint’ is now enormous compared to my actual shoe size. Consequently, I’m contacted daily from people finding me on the web. Many of these people are at the pre-diagnosis or initial phase. Most are looking for information and some sound like they are already at the ‘acceptance stage’; some are frightened about the future, some are angry because they think they are not being told important information and some also feel they have been messed about or ‘fobbed off’ by their doctors. Of course I’m happy to help but only after reminding them that I’m just a wee Scottish guy with the same disease!
I have to say that some people arrive on my site without a diagnosis but often seem to be very well prepared – the power of the internet I suspect. The questions I mostly get involve finding experts and then what questions to ask them.
As an extra bonus to this post, I offer you a starting point for the best places I know for finding experts:
For Europe – here at ENETS: European NET Centres of Excellence
UK – here at UKINETS: UK NET Centres
For USA and others – here at Carcinoid Cancer Foundation: Find a Doctor
For USA, the NET Research Foundation also has a ‘Doctor Database’ section (…worth checking both CCF and NETRF)
Neuroendocrine Cancer – 10 questions to ask your specialist
Many people ask me what sort of questions to ask and because NETs is such a diverse bunch of diseases, that leads to me ask them a series of questions to ascertain what they might consider asking. I’m not surprised to find some are unable to answer my questions and so those then become some of their questions to ask!
Also, questions don’t end at the diagnosis phase, they continue and in fact, some of the answers to the questions below, may bring up new questions in your mind. Some of these questions can be asked time and time again in the event of issues downstream.
If you’re currently confused about the essential facts of your condition, you’re not alone. In a recent study, almost half of cancer patients did not know basic stuff such as grade and stage of cancer, and after their initial treatment, whether they were free of disease or in remission.
For those entering or are recently just beyond the diagnostic phase, you may find certain questions cannot yet be answered without further test results etc. However, if the answer is not yet known for whatever reason, at least you have it on your list for follow up appointments. Consequently, I’ve constructed this list of 10 questions that should function as a generic set. There may also be ‘specific to country’ questions such as insurance cover in addition to this suggested list. Of course, some of you may not want the answer to so certain questions. That’s perfectly understandable, so don’t ask!
1. Where is my primary tumour and what type of NET is it?
This is a fundamental question and it’s likely many will already have some inkling about location and perhaps a type. The difference between NETs and other types of cancer is the primary can be found wherever there are Neuroendocrine cells rather than a specific part of the anatomy in terms of naming the type of cancer, i.e. a NET of the pancreas is not Pancreatic Cancer.
The type of NET is key as it will drive a lot of other stuff including treatment. Location and type of NET are not always aligned, for example, you may have a NET in your Pancreas but there are several types of Pancreatic NET (or pNET) and these may depend on identification of a particular hormone (see syndrome below). For some the primary will not yet be found (i.e. cancer of unknown primary or CUP). There may also be multiple primaries.
2. What is the grade and differentiation of my tumour(s)?
Another fundamental question as this defines the aggressiveness of the disease and is absolutely key in determining overall treatment plans. Treatment plans for poorly differentiated can be very different from well differentiated. Read more here – Grading and here – Benign or Malignant
3. What is the stage of my disease?
Fundamental to understanding the nature of your disease. Stage confirms the extent of your disease, i.e. how far has it spread. Again this will drive treatment plans and long-term outlooks. Scans are really important in determining the Stage of your cancer – check out my scans post here. Read more here on Staging
4. Do I have a NET Syndrome?
Many NET patients will have been experiencing symptoms prior to diagnosis, perhaps for some time. It’s possible these symptoms form part of what is known as a ‘Syndrome’ and there are several associated with NETs. Syndromes are mostly caused by the effects of over-secretion of hormones from the tumours, a hallmark of Neuroendocrine disease. Read more here – NET Syndromes.
5. What is my treatment plan and what are the factors that will influence my eventual treatment?
This is a very complex area and will depend on many factors. Thus why your specialist may not have the answers to hand. Decisions on treatment are normally made by some form of Multi-disciplinary Team (MDT). They will only make those decisions once they have all the necessary test results in place.
6. When will I start treatment?
Many people diagnosed with cancer expect to be whisked away to an operating theatre or chemotherapy treatment. However, for many this is not what actually happens. Depending on what testing has been done up to the actual diagnosis, it’s possible that even more testing needs to be done. Additionally, for those with an accompanying syndrome, this will most likely need to be brought until control before certain treatments can be administered; and even then, there may be checks to make sure the treatment will be suitable. Sometimes it’s a case of ‘Hurry up and wait’. My first treatment was 6 weeks after diagnosis and that was designed to control my syndrome ready for surgery which was undertaken 14 weeks after diagnosis. It’s also possible you will be placed on a ‘watch and wait’ regime, at least to begin with.
7. Will you be able to get rid of all my disease?
This is a really difficult question for any specialist, even a Neuroendocrine expert. All published articles on NETs will say they are a heterogeneous collection of diseases (i.e. consisting of dissimilar entities) which makes this question (and others) difficult. I have read articles written by the world’s foremost NET experts and they all have the word ‘curative’ mentioned in various places. So I guess in particular scenarios with certain NETs, and if the disease is caught early enough, that possibility exists. However, for many, the disease could be incurable, particularly where there is distant metastasis. But, the disease has many treatment options for most types and for many it is possible to live as if it were a chronic condition. I call it ‘incurable but treatable’. Read more here – Incurable vs Terminal
8. What Surveillance will I be placed under
Again, this is very individual in NETs and is mainly dependent on type of NET, grade and stage and how the patients reacts to treatment. This may not be known until you have undergone your initial treatment. For example, surveillance scans can be any period from 3 months to 3 years depending on tumour type(location) and stage/grade. Marker testing tends to average around 6 monthly but could be more or less frequently depending on what’s going on.
9. Will I receive support and specialist advice after my treatment?
Let’s not be afraid of the word ‘Palliative’, it does not always mean ‘end of life’ care. Another example is nutrition. Many people with NETs, the condition in combination with the side effects of treatment may necessitate an alteration of diet and this is a very individual area. I would also emphasise that dietitians not well versed in NETs might not offer the optimum advice. Read more – My Nutrition Series.
10. How will treatment affect my daily life?
This is a question that many people miss but it’s becoming more important as we all live longer with cancer Again, this may not be possible to answer immediately but perhaps this question could be reserved once you know which treatment(s) you will be receiving. All treatment comes with side effects and can last for some time or even present with late effects after some years. The ‘consequences’ of cancer treatment need to be factored in earlier so that the necessary knowledge and support can be put in place. See also Unmet Needs for NET Patients
I suspect others will have suggestions for this list so feel free to submit these to me. I quite often refresh my posts over time.
Thanks for reading
There’s a lot of inaccurate information out there …….
Myth 1: Neuroendocrine Tumours are benign
Not true. By any scientific definition, the word ‘tumour’ means ‘an abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should. Tumours may be benign (not cancerous), or malignant (cancerous)’. However, The World Health Organisation (WHO) 2010 classification is based on the concept that all NETs have malignant potential, and has therefore abandoned the division into benign and malignant NETs and tumours of uncertain malignant potential. This has been reinforced in the 2017 update to include clarification for other types of NET including Pheochromocytoma. Read more here. The word ‘Carcinoid’ is inextricably linked with this issue – read here why we need to stop using the term to help fight the benign myth.
Myth 2: Neuroendocrine Tumours is a terminal condition
Not true. By any definition of the word terminal in a medical diagnostic context, most NET patients have a good prognostic outlook, even those with metastatic and incurable disease. Read more here.
Myth 3: Carcinoid is another word for Neuroendocrine Tumours
Not true. Carcinoid is a very old term and was phased out years ago. Carcinoid is not mentioned in the latest WHO Classification schemes for Neuroendocrine Neoplasms (a term covering Neuroendocrine Tumours and Neuroendocrine Carcinoma). “Carcinoid Neuroendocrine”, “Neuroendocrine Carcinoid”, “Carcinoid and Neuroendocrine”, “Neuroendocrine and Carcinoid”, “Carcinoid/NETs”, “CNET”, are all contextually incorrect and misleading terms. ENETS and NANETS publications are gradually phasing the word out except in relation to Carcinoid Syndrome, Carcinoid Heart Disease and Carcinoid Crisis. Read more here and here.
Myth 4: All NET patients get ‘carcinoid syndrome’
Not true. Firstly, many NET cancers are non-functional; and secondly, carcinoid syndrome is only one of a number of “NET Syndromes” associated with the various types of NET. However, the issue is further confused by those who use the word ‘Carcinoid‘ to incorrectly refer to all NETs and use Carcinoid Syndrome to refer to all NET Syndromes. Read more here.
Myth 5: Neuroendocrine Tumours are rare
Myth 6: Steve Jobs had Pancreatic Cancer
Not true. Steve Jobs had a Neuroendocrine Tumour of the Pancreas. Ditto for a few other famous names. Read more here.
Myth 7: I’m not getting chemotherapy, I must be doing OK?
Not true. For some cancers or some sub-types of cancers, although it remains an option, chemotherapy is not particularly effective, e.g. some types of Neuroendocrine Cancer (NETs). In general, well differentiated NETs do not show a high degree of sensitivity to chemotherapy, some primary locations worse than others. However, many of the treatments for NET Cancer are somewhat harsh, have long-term consequences, and have no visible effects. NET patients are often said to “look well” but that doesn’t mean they are not struggling behind the scenes or under the surface. Read more here. P.S. Afinitor (Everolimus), Sutent (Sunitinib) are not chemo – Read more here.
Myth 8: All diarrhea is caused by carcinoid syndrome
Not true. It could be one of the other syndromes or tumor types or a side effect of your treatment. Check out this post.
Myth 9: Neuroendocrine Tumours is a ‘good cancer’
Not true. Simply, no cancer is good. Some are statistically worse than others in prognostic terms, that’s true…… but living with NETs is very often not a walk in the park. However, no one cancer is better to get than any other – they’re all bad. Read more here.
Myth 10: Every NET Patient was misdiagnosed for years
Not true. Many NET Patients are correctly diagnosed early on in their investigation and in a reasonable time. This myth is perpetuated because of two things: firstly, on forums, the ratio of long-term misdiagnosis is high creating a false perception; and secondly, the method of capturing patient surveys is not extensive enough – again creating a false perception. In fact, the latest and largest database analysis from US indicates earlier diagnosis is improving, with more and more NETs being picked up at an early stage. Read more here.
Myth 11: Somatostatin Analogues are a type of Chemotherapy
Not true. Somatostatin Analogues (e.g. Octreotide and Lanreotide) are not chemotherapy, they are hormone inhibiting drugs. They are more biotherapy As the drugs latch onto somatostatin receptors, they are more targeted than systemic. For the record, Everolimus (Afinitor) and Sunitinib (Sutent) are not chemotherapy either. Read more here.
Myth 12: Stuart Scott (ESPN) and Audrey Hepburn had Neuroendocrine Cancer.
Not true. This is a common misunderstanding within the community. They both had Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (PMP). Read more about PMP here.
Myth 13: I’ve been diagnosed with Neuroendocrine Tumours – my life is over
Not true. Many patients live a very long time and lead fairly normal lives with the right treatment and support. It’s difficult but I try not to use ‘I can’t’ too much. Read more here.
Myth 14: There are only a handful of Neuroendocrine specialists in the world
Not true. There are many specialists in many countries. Get links to specialists by clicking here.
Myth 15: The Ga68 PET scan is replacing the CT scan in routine surveillance for all NET Patients
Not true. It is replacing the Octreoscan for particular purposes or will eventually. Read more by clicking here.
Myth 16: All NET Patients are Zebras
Not true. They are in fact human beings and we should treat them as such.
Myth 17: Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN) is a type of Neuroendocrine Tumour
Not true. Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia syndromes are inherited disorders – This means that they can be passed down in families, with each child of an affected parent having a 1 in 2 or 50% risk of inheritance. Read more here
Myth 18: Palliative Care means end of life or hospice care
Not true. Palliative care is specialized medical care that focuses on providing patients relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. A multidisciplinary care team aims to improve quality of life for people who have serious or life-threatening illnesses, no matter the diagnosis or stage of disease. Read more here
Thanks for reading
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Thousand of people are diagnosed with cancer every day. Neuroendocrine Cancer now forms an increasing number of these diagnoses thanks to greater awareness, better diagnostic tools and more accurate reporting systems, including the ability to get the correct cancer type into the statistics. However, although numbers are on the increase, it doesn’t necessarily directly relate to a better diagnostic experience – that is clear from the third reason I outlined above. Many people are still diagnosed too late.
To determine a cancer, that means getting tested and tests are normally based on the presenting symptoms. Certain cancers have very distinguishing symptoms and can in most cases, be correctly referred to an appropriate test, specialist or hospital. Tick!
The problem with certain cancer symptoms is that they are not always clear cut. For example, take symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, or fatigue – those can be caused by a whole host of things, many of which aren’t even cancer. It’s difficult for any doctor to work out the cause of such things let alone which tests to send them for – they can be really difficult boxes to tick. Worrying they can also be really easy boxes to tick for illnesses such as IBS, indigestion, menopause.
Neuroendocrine Tumours or NETs for short, is one of a number of ‘hard to detect’ cancers because many patients present with one or more of these vague symptoms. It’s also one of the reasons why they are normally found at secondary care institutions and perhaps after several visits to a physician involving journeys back and forth between primary and secondary care before the diagnosis was finally made. In the UK, it’s staggering to note that almost a quarter of all cancer diagnoses are made in an ’emergency scenario’, frequently when it’s too late to cure.
So what can be done to improve the diagnoses of ‘hard to detect’ cancers such as NETs? I don’t have any real answers for you although I have postulated a number of times about where we might focus in terms of education (more on this in later blogs).
I’m fairly certain that medical science will come along with novel ways of helping but that is somewhat downstream. If only a referral to a specialist could actually be a referral to a team of different but highly coordinated specialists – a bit like a Multi Disciplinary Team (like a ‘Tumor Board’) but operating at the pre-diagnostic phase with quick access to all the regular diagnostic tools without any further referrals. That would surely help cut down some of the ‘ping-pong’ visits between primary and secondary care and a team of experts is more likely to ‘think outside the box’ than a single specialist who is focused only his or her ‘speciality’.
I was therefore very interested to read about a pilot programme currently underway in UK whereby a number of ‘early diagnosis’ projects are running. The initiative is known as Accelerate, Coordinate, Evaluate (ACE) Programme. Of particular interest to NETs and other hard to detect cancers is ‘Wave 2’ of the programme where someone with ‘vague’ symptoms is referred to a “Multi-Disciplinary Centre (MDC) rather than to a specialist in their local hospital. And I thought ……what a great idea! I’ll be monitoring this programme to see the outcomes which are expected at the end of 2018.
In the meantime, if you see someone ticking a box, make sure you know which box is being ticked and challenge it if necessary
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Welcome to my fifth ‘community’ newsletter, the monthly summary of NET news, views and ICYMI (in case you missed it!).
The highlight of the month was my attendance at the first ever Joint Patient-Physician symposium at ENETS Barcelona. I remain thankful to INCA for the honour of attending and for the experience that came with it. It was also great to finally meet other NET advocates face to face for the first time. Some of them have been great supporters since the inception of my blog and community.
March was a slower month in blogging terms due to a number of external projects and a continuing flow of private messages. I don’t have an issue with private contact but please note my disclaimer. My winter cold extended into March including during the ENETS/INCA symposium and although I had no voice, I still managed a question to the panel.
Despite a low number of blogs, I still managed to accumulate the second biggest monthly blog views ever. Thank you all so much ♥
New Blogs Published
Due to the vagaries of Facebook inner workings, some of these may not have even shown on your Facebook timeline. So, ICYMI …….here’s a summary with links:
- My February Newsletter!
- In the war on Neuroendocrine Cancer, let’s not forget to win the battle for better quality of life. A key campaign for 2017 in the area of better quality of life and unmet needs for patients (a key INCA initiative). Already over 1000 views.
Other News in Mar 2017
New Audiences for NET Cancer. From Day 1, I said it was my aim to find new audiences for NETS rather than just share stuff within our own community.
- I’m ‘extremely’ active on twitter and I find a lot of my research stuff there. I also use it to support other conditions and it’s mostly returned (i.e. others help with NET awareness). There is so much on twitter that I could swamp the community Facebook site so I started a twitter newsletter via an app called Nuzzel which seeks out stuff I normally like. Click this link and sign up if you think this is something you’d be interested in receiving. I almost doubled the amount of subscribers in March! Currently 168.
- I’m making new friends in the interventional radiologist community and am waiting on a video featuring a NET Patient (will bring you details in due course) and I’m learning more about these technologies from reading their tweets – I had no idea how many different jobs these guys do! I’m also seeing an increase from the Pathology community.
- I’m proud to have been asked to become a ‘Community Champion’ on the Macmillan Cancer Support Forum helping outliers from the NET community there. I’ll be reporting more on this in the coming weeks.
Patients Included. A new campaign for 2017. I was excited to have been invited to the first ever joint Patient-Physician symposium at the annual ENETS conference in Barcelona 8 – 11 March. I have really good information which will feed into my blogs, either as updates or new blogs. This new blog is a result of attending this symposium but it’s from an existing campaign run along the ‘Consequences’ campaign run by Macmillan Cancer Support for all cancers. In the war on Neuroendocrine Cancer, let’s not forget to win the battle for better quality of life
Blog Milestone. In March, I tipped over the quarter of a million views! Thank you all so much ♥ Keep sharing!
Facebook Milestone. I’m aiming for 5000 by year-end and this is on track. The Facebook page is now my biggest outlet for awareness and education so please please please recommend this page to anyone you think would be interested. The picture of the invite button shown here is an example from a windows computer, it may differ on other platforms.
I’m expanding into Instagram to see how that goes. I’ve amassed over 200 followers to date. Initially, I’ll just be posting pictures of things that inspire me, mostly scenic photos of places I’ve been or want to go! You can follow me here: Click here to go to my Instagram page
- Facebook – 4350. This is a key outlet for my blog – please encourage others to like my page (if you’d like to know how to use your Facebook to invite others to my page – let me know, I can provide you with a step by step approach). Please also join my 2017 awareness campaign event here (select ‘Going’)
- Twitter – 3754 / 2883 Follow me here @RonnyAllan1 / @NETCancerBlog
- Total Blog Views: 256,111
- Blog with most views: 8052 – The Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer
- Most blog views in one day: 2043 on 15 Jan 2017. Why the spike? ….. “The Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer”
- Most blog views in one month: 19,186 in Jan 2017. Why the spike? …. “The Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer” and “Ignore this post about Neuroendocrine Cancer“
Where did March Blog views come from? – Top 11 countries: Denmark is a new entry.
For interest. the 10 Ten Facebook followers by Country – Spain overtakes France 🙂
Thanks for your great support in March.
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