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Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2017 Feb;31(1):35-47. doi: 10.1016/j.beem.2017.02.004. Epub 2017 Feb 22.

Controversies in the risk of neoplasia in GH deficiency.

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University of Belgrade, School of Medicine, Dr Subotica 8, 11000 Belgrade, Serbia; Clinic for Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases, Clinical Center of Serbia, Dr Subotica 13, 11000 Belgrade, Serbia.
University of Belgrade, School of Medicine, Dr Subotica 8, 11000 Belgrade, Serbia. Electronic address:


Growth hormone (GH) replacement in GH deficient (GHD) children secures normal linear growth, while in GHD adults it improves metabolic status, body composition and quality of life. Safety of GH treatment is an important issue in particular concerning the controversy of potential cancer risk. Unlike in congenital IGF-1 deficiency, there is no complete protection against cancer in GHD patients. Important modifiable risk factors in GHD patients are obesity, insulin resistance, sedentary behavior, circadian rhythm disruption, chronic low grade inflammation and concomitant sex hormone replacement. Age, family history, hereditary cancer predisposition syndromes or cranial irradiation may present non-modifiable risk factors. Quantifying the risk of cancer in relation to GH therapy in adult GHD patients is complex. There is evidence that links GH to cancer occurrence or promotion, but the evidence is progressively weaker when moving from in vitro studies to in vivo animal studies to epidemiological studies and finally to studies on GH treated patients. GH-IGF inhibition in experimental animals leads to decreased cancer incidence and progression. Epidemiological studies suggest an association of high normal circulating IGF-1 or GH to cancer incidence in general population. Data regarding cancer incidence in acromegaly are inconsistent but thyroid and colorectal neoplasias are the main source of concern. Replacement therapy with rhGH for GHD is generally safe. Overall the rate of de novo cancers was not increased in studies of GH-treated GHD patients. Additional caution is mandated in patients with history of cancer, strong family history of cancer and with advancing age. Childhood cancer survivors may be at increased risk for secondary neoplasms compared with general population. In this subgroup GH therapy should be used cautiously and with respect to other risk factors (cranial irradiation etc). We believe that the benefits of GH therapy against the morbidity of untreated GH deficiency outweigh the theoretical cancer risk. Proper monitoring of GH treatment with diligent cancer surveillance remains essential.


GH deficiency; cancer; rhGH replacement; risk factors

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