Senator Bernie Sanders is currently mourning the loss of his daughter-in-law, Dr. Rainè Riggs, who passed away just two days after receiving a cancer diagnosis. The senator is right on the heels of recovering from a heart attack himself.
Riggs, age 46, was the wife of Senator Sanders’ son Levi. They had three children together. Her obituary states that her illness came quickly and was quite a mystery for her doctors. After spending three weeks in a hospital, Riggs was transferred to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), where she found out she had a rare cancer called neuroendocrine cancer. The disease progressed extremely fast, taking her life only two days later.
So what should you know about this disease that took Dr. Riggs’ life?
Neuroendocrine cancer is a rare cancer that occurs within the body’s neuroendocrine cells, cells that communicate with the nervous system by secreting hormones. Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) can show up anywhere in the body, but they’re usually found in the digestive tract, pancreas, rectum, lungs, or appendix. The tumors are incredible rare, striking only 2,000 people each year and making up less than 1% of all cancers in the United States.
The tumors typically grow slowly, but some forms can be fast-growing. Unfortunately, like many cancers, they usually don’t produce symptoms until they have grown and spread to other areas of the body.
What are the symptoms of neuroendocrine cancer?
Because NETs can appear in different locations, symptoms vary. There are also two kinds of NETs, functional and non-functional. Functional means that the tumor impacts hormone production and non-functional means it does not.
Some symptoms may include hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), changes in digestion, diarrhea, bladder issues, pain in a particular area, unintentional weight loss, persistent fevers, and unusual bleeding or discharge.
How is neuroendocrine cancer treated?
Neuroendocrine cancer can be treated through surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. These therapies may be used in combination with one another or by themselves. The type and amount of therapy used will depend upon the stage and type of the NET.
Dr. Riggs’ cancer case was unfortunately fatal, but not all cases of neuroendocrine cancer are death sentences. The rate of survival is largely dependent, again, on the stage and type of NET.
Our thoughts are with the Riggs and Sanders families as they mourn the loss of their wife, mother, and daughter.