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Are you out of breath? Wheezing? Coughing? It might not be as innocent as summer flu

by , 19 November 2014

If you're out of breath, wheezing and coughing you might think your asthma or summer allergies are flaring up again. Or maybe you think it's summer flu.

I'll bet CANCER never crossed your mind.

But it should.

Because for the unlucky few, that's exactly what it is.

You see, there's a specific type of cancer (no, it's not lung cancer) that causes these exact symptoms. And, unless you know what to look for, you might not know you have it until your doctor says “I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do to stop it”.

Here's what you need to know about this stealthy form of cancer so you can stop it in its tracks before it claims your life.

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NET cancer: The stealth killer few people know about

NET cancer is the umbrella term for a group of unusual cancers that develop from cells in your endocrine system: The part of your body that makes and releases hormones into your bloodstream.
Also called neuroendocrine tumours, NETs affect the cells in your nerves and glands. Since these are most common in your lung and your gut, that’s where most NETs hit. But they can also affect your pancreas, ovaries and testicles. 
Now NET cancer isn’t something many people know about. This because this cancer develops slowly. In fact, people normally discover they have it three to seven years later when it’s spread to the rest of your body. 
At this point, it’s usually deadly. Demolishing your body at lightning speed. 
(Just think of all those stories you’ve heard about someone who received a pancreas cancer diagnosis and died a few weeks later.)
But the truth is, NET cancers do present early symptoms. And the only way to survive this type of cancer is to recognise them for what they are – right from the start. 

To survive NET cancer, you need to catch it early  

According to The International Neuroendocrine Cancer Alliance, because NET cancer can develop in a variety of areas, many people ignore the symptoms and don’t put two-and-two together until it’s too late. 
Adding fuel to this fire is that fact that many of the symptoms are similar to common ailments like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, asthma and pneumonia. So it’s no wonder doctors often misdiagnose what’s wrong. 
That’s why the organisation urges you to speak to your doctor about testing if you experience any (or a few) of the following symptoms for a prolonged amount of time:
  • Trouble breathing – this includes wheezing, being out of breath, coughing and blood in your spit; 
  • Epigastric pain (pain localised in your upper abdomen immediately below your ribs – this is often mistaken heartburn);
  • Intermittent low blood sugar;
  • Rashes;
  • Diarrhoea;
  • Hot flushing;
  • And abdominal pain
If this sounds like what you’ve been going through, speak to your doctor about these tests…
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Suspect you may have NETs? Here’s what to chat to your doctor about

While some tests – like biopsies and endoscopic ultrasounds are quite evasive – there are simpler tests that look for any hormonal changes triggered by the cancerous cells.
These include:
  • A fasting gut hormone blood test – to determine if you have certain NET markers in your blood.
  • Kidney function test – to check how well your kidneys are doing their job.
  • Urine test – this looks for elevated levels of 5-HIAA (hydroxyindoleacetic acid).
  • And a thyroid test. 
Bottom line: Don’t ignore your symptoms – especially if you’re receiving treatment and nothing seems to be working. After all, recent studies reveal one in every 20 000 people will develop some form of NET. And while that may not sound like much, when you consider that NETs incidents have increased more than a five-fold in the last 30 years, that fear should be very real. 

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