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      Growth Hormone Treatment: Cancer Risk

      Hormone Research in Paediatrics

      S. Karger AG

      Insulin-like growth factor-I, Growth hormone, Cancer

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          There have been concerns that growth hormone (GH) therapy may be associated with an increased risk of cancer. Although data are limited and conflicting, one recent report on cancer risk in individuals with no cancer history or risk factors for cancer who were treated with pituitary GH demonstrated a small increased risk of colon cancer and deaths from colon cancer and Hodgkin disease. The data from cancer survivors have consistently shown no increased risk of recurrence of the primary tumor in survivors of all tumor types who are treated with GH. One recent study did show a small increased risk of second solid tumors in survivors previously treated with GH. Limited data suggest that GH therapy is not associated with excess cancer risk in individuals with Langerhans cell histiocytosis and neurofibromatosis type 1. Overall, the clinical data are reassuring, but continued surveillance is mandatory.

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          Most cited references 16

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          Systemic complications of acromegaly: epidemiology, pathogenesis, and management.

          This review focuses on the systemic complications of acromegaly. Mortality in this disease is increased mostly because of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, although currently neoplastic complications have been questioned as a relevant cause of increased risk of death. Biventricular hypertrophy, occurring independently of hypertension and metabolic complications, is the most frequent cardiac complication. Diastolic and systolic dysfunction develops along with disease duration; and other cardiac disorders, such as arrhythmias, valve disease, hypertension, atherosclerosis, and endothelial dysfunction, are also common in acromegaly. Control of acromegaly by surgery or pharmacotherapy, especially somatostatin analogs, improves cardiovascular morbidity. Respiratory disorders, sleep apnea, and ventilatory dysfunction are also important contributors in increasing mortality and are advantageously benefitted by controlling GH and IGF-I hypersecretion. An increased risk of colonic polyps, which more frequently recur in patients not controlled after treatment, has been reported by several independent investigations, although malignancies in other organs have also been described, but less convincingly than at the gastrointestinal level. Finally, the most important cause of morbidity and functional disability of the disease is arthropathy, which can be reversed at an initial stage, but not if the disease is left untreated for several years.
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            Second cancers in survivors of childhood cancer.

             Smita Bhatia,  C Sklar (2002)
            More than 70% of children diagnosed with cancer can now be expected to be long-term survivors. However, the consequences of 'cure' might be considerable for the survivors of cancer: 60-70% of young adults who have survived childhood cancer will develop at least one medical disability as a result of their cancer or, more commonly, as a result of their therapy. Of these, the most devastating is a second cancer.
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              Does the GH-IGF axis play a role in cancer pathogenesis?

              Recent case-controlled studies have found increases in the serum levels of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) in subjects who had, or who eventually developed, prostate or premenopausal breast cancers. Since growth hormone (GH) increases IGF-I levels, concern has been raised regarding its potential role as a cancer initiation factor. The epidemiological studies, which indicate an association between serum IGF-I levels and cancer risk, have not established causality. In fact, several alternative explanations for the elevated serum IGF-I levels in cancer patients may be proposed based on human and animal models. First, an effect of IGF-I causing symptomatic benign tissue hyperplasia may result in an ascertainment bias leading to an initiation of procedures resulting in the diagnosis of asymptomatic cancers. Second, elevated serum IGF-I in cancer patients may originate within the tumor (as suggested by some animal studies). Thirdly, serum IGF-I may actually be a surrogate marker of tissue IGF-I levels or of nutritional factors, which are not under GH control and may be involved in cancer initiation. The role of GH in cancer initiation is further negated by the fact that in acromegaly, the incidence of cancer, other than possibly colonic neoplasia does not appear to be significantly increased. Furthermore, GH transgenic mice, with high IGF-I levels, do not develop breast, prostate, or colonic malignancies. It is known that IGFBP-3 can inhibit IGF action on cancer cells in vitro and also can induce apoptosis via an IGF-independent mechanism. Importantly, in addition to increasing IGF-I levels, GH also increases the serum levels of IGFBP-3 and serum IGFBP-3 levels have been shown to be negatively correlated with the risk of cancer in the above mentioned epidemiological studies and in a similar study on colon cancer. These studies suggest that cancer risk is increased in individuals in whom both high IGF-I levels and low IGFBP-3 levels are present. In subjects treated with GH, IGF-I and IGFBP-3 levels both rise together and are not within the elevated cancer-risk range, based on published studies. Long-term studies are needed to assess the potential risks, including the long-term cancer risk associated with GH therapy. These should take into account several factors, including the duration of exposure, the risk magnitude associated with the degree of serum IGF-I elevation, and the adjusted risk based on a concomitant increase in IGFBP-3 levels. Since GH treated patients often have sub-normal IGF-I serum levels, which normalize on therapy, one might predict that their cancer risk on GH therapy should not increase above the normal population. Until further research in the area dictates otherwise, on-going cancer surveillance and routine monitoring of serum IGF-I and IGFBP-3 levels in GH-recipients should be the standard of care. At present, the data that are available do not warrant a change in our current management of approved indications for GH therapy.

                Author and article information

                Horm Res Paediatr
                Hormone Research in Paediatrics
                S. Karger AG
                October 2004
                17 November 2004
                : 62
                : Suppl 3
                : 30-34
                Department of Pediatrics, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, N.Y., USA
                80496 Horm Res 2004;62(suppl 3):30–34
                © 2004 S. Karger AG, Basel

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                Page count
                Tables: 3, References: 30, Pages: 5
                GH Treatment – Potential Risks and Benefits


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