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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1998 Dec;83(12):4233-8.

The role of cytotoxic chemotherapy in the management of aggressive and malignant pituitary tumors.

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Department of Endocrinology, St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London, United Kingdom.


Pituitary tumors are mostly benign lesions, although 5-35% are locally invasive. A small number exhibit a more aggressive course, infiltrating dura, bone and sinuses, and are designated highly aggressive. However, the presence of metastases separate from the pituitary in the central nervous system or at a distance is necessary to designate pituitary tumors as carcinomas, i.e. truly malignant. When conventional therapeutic modalities fail, systemic chemotherapy remains the last option. We report seven such patients, three with highly aggressive and four with malignant pituitary tumors (n=4) four women; median age, 32 yr; range, 23-48 yr), who received one or more courses of chemotherapy with lomustine and 5-fluorouracil (median, two courses; range, one to six courses). Three patients with systemic metastatic disease had a shorter survival (median, 5 months; range, 1-14 months) than the one patient with central nervous system metastases alone (10 yr). A patient with an aggressive nonmetastatic prolactinoma who initially responded to chemotherapy died from another nondisease-associated cause. Two patients, one with an aggressive and one with a metastatic tumor, achieved symptomatic improvement with a median duration of 6 months. A hormonal reduction greater than 50% was observed in two of seven patients; only one patient who had an aggressive tumor obtained an objective tumor response. The median survival from the time of initiation of chemotherapy in patients with malignant tumors ranged from 3-65 months. Two patients with malignant tumors developed disease progression while receiving chemotherapy; no patient with extracranial metastases showed a response. Treatment was well tolerated, with minimal individual side-effects. Three patients with no response to initial treatment received different chemotherapeutic regimens with no additional response. All patients with metastatic malignant tumors eventually died. Treatment with cytotoxic chemotherapy is noncurative, and current experience is limited. Until another more specific form of treatment is available, chemotherapy may still be of some value in patients with highly aggressive and malignant pituitary tumors, at least in achieving a temporary remission or delay in progression. The combination of lomustine/5-fluorouracil proved easy to administer with minimal toxicity, although the response rate was only 14%. Until a more specific treatment is found, an optimal chemotherapeutic regimen needs to be established.

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