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Q J Med. 1989 Feb;70(262):145-60.

Hypopituitarism following external radiotherapy for pituitary tumours in adults.

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Department of Endocrinology, Christie Hospital and Holt Radium Institute, Withington, Manchester.


The development of anterior pituitary hormone deficiencies has been studied in a group of 165 patients who underwent external radiotherapy for tumours of the pituitary or closely related anatomical sites, and who have been observed for up to 10 years. One hundred and forty had undergone pituitary surgery before radiotherapy. All patients received external radiotherapy by a three-field technique, giving 3750-4250 cGy in 15 or 16 fractions over 20-22 days. A combined test of anterior pituitary function using insulin hypoglycaemia or glucagon stimulation in conjunction with thyrotrophin and gonadotrophin releasing hormone tests and basal estimations of prolactin, thyroid hormones and testosterone or oestradiol was performed before radiotherapy. This was repeated six and 12 months later and subsequently annually. Before radiotherapy, 18 per cent of patients had normal growth hormone secretion, 21 per cent had normal gonadotrophin secretion, 57 per cent had normal corticotrophin reserve and 80 per cent had normal thyrotrophin secretion. Life table analysis demonstrated increasing incidences of all anterior pituitary hormone deficiencies with time: by five years all patients were growth hormone deficient, 91 per cent were gonadotrophin deficient, 77 per cent were corticotrophin deficient and 42 per cent were thyrotrophin deficient. At eight years, respective incidences of deficiencies were 100, 96, 84 and 49 per cent. Radiation-induced hyperprolactinaemia was seen in 73 patients; mean serum prolactin concentration rose from 227 +/- 11 mU/l to a peak of 369 +/- 60 mU/l at two years and subsequently declined towards the basal value. The primary diagnosis, patient age, sex, irradiated tissue volume and previous surgery were examined as variables that might influence the rate of development of anterior pituitary hormone deficiencies, but none of these factors had a significant effect. The radiation induced hyperprolactinaemia was however more marked in female patients. Although anterior pituitary hormone deficiencies most commonly developed in the order growth hormone, gonadotrophin, corticotrophin, thyrotrophin (61 per cent of patients), other sequences were evident. Most notably corticotrophin deficiency occurred before gonadotrophin deficiency. There is a high incidence of anterior pituitary hormone deficiencies in patients treated surgically for pituitary tumours and the incidence increases after external radiotherapy. Deficiencies may occur in an unpredictable sequence and endocrine testing is recommended on an annual basis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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