Yearly pituitary screening helps childhood cancer survivors manage risk

Wassim Chemaitilly, MD

St. Jude researchers have reported more evidence that many childhood cancer survivors need their pituitary function checked annually.

Investigators found that survivors remain at risk for pituitary hormone deficiencies decades after they underwent treatment with cranial irradiation. Researchers also found evidence that low hormone levels may diminish survivors’ health and quality of life.

Cranial irradiation delivers radiation therapy to the head. The treatment can affect the pituitary gland, which sits at the base of the brain. The pituitary makes hormones involved in regulating important functions, including growth, reproduction, sexual development plus bone and muscle strength.

The study included 748 St. Jude survivors enrolled in St. Jude LIFE. That study brings cancer survivors treated at St. Jude back to campus for several days of health screenings and assessments. The goal is to improve medical care and the well-being for current and future pediatric cancer survivors.

“The findings underscore the need for childhood cancer survivors to get recommended health screenings and challenge us to help survivors navigate the health care system and receive the care they need,” said first and corresponding author Wassim Chemaitilly, MD, of St. Jude Pediatric Medicine. St. Jude is testing a pilot program to help cancer survivors at risk for hormone problems make a successful transition from pediatric to adult medical care.

The study appeared in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

February 13, 2015

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