, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 448–455 | Cite as

Hypothalamic pituitary dysfunction amongst nasopharyngeal cancer survivors

  • J. Ratnasingam
  • N. Karim
  • S. S. Paramasivam
  • L. Ibrahim
  • L. L. Lim
  • A. T. B. Tan
  • S. R. Vethakkan
  • A. Jalaludin
  • S. P. Chan



Radiation fields for nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) include the base of skull, which places the hypothalamus and pituitary at risk of damage. We aimed to establish the prevalence, pattern and severity of hypothalamic pituitary (HP) dysfunction amongst NPC survivors.


We studied 50 patients (31 males) with mean age 57 ± 12.2 years who had treatment for NPC between 3 and 21 years (median 8 years) without pre-existing HP disorder from other causes. All patients had a baseline cortisol, fT4, TSH, LH, FSH, oestradiol/testosterone, prolactin and renal function. All patients underwent dynamic testing with insulin tolerance test to assess the somatotroph and corticotroph axes. Baseline blood measurements were used to assess thyrotroph, gonadotroph and lactotroph function.


Hypopituitarism was present in 82 % of patients, 30 % single axis, 28 % two axes, 18 % three axes and 6 % four axes deficiencies. Somatotroph deficiency was most common (78 %) while corticotroph, gonadotroph and thyrotroph deficiencies were noted in 40 % (4 complete/16 partial), 22 and 4 % of the patients respectively. Hyperprolactinaemia was present in 30 % of patients. The development of HP dysfunction was significantly associated with the time elapsed from irradiation, OR 2.5 (1.2, 5.3), p = 0.02, for every 2 years post treatment. The use of concurrent chemo-irradiation (CCRT) compared to those who had radiotherapy alone was also significantly associated with HP dysfunction, OR 14.5 (2.4, 87.7), p < 0.01.


Despite low awareness and detection rates, HP dysfunction post-NPC irradiation is common. Use of CCRT may augment time related pituitary damage. As these endocrinopathies result in significant morbidity and mortality we recommend periodic assessment of pituitary function amongst NPC survivors.


Nasopharyngeal cancer Hypothalamic-pituitary dysfunction Radiotherapy Concurrent chemo-irradiation GH deficiency Panhypopituitarism 



The authors would like to acknowledge the Late Professor Rokiah Pendek, who continues to be our inspiration to strive for excellence. The study was supported by the University Malaya Research Grant (UMRG), UMRG 255/10 HTM.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Ratnasingam
    • 1
  • N. Karim
    • 1
  • S. S. Paramasivam
    • 1
  • L. Ibrahim
    • 1
  • L. L. Lim
    • 1
  • A. T. B. Tan
    • 1
  • S. R. Vethakkan
    • 1
  • A. Jalaludin
    • 2
  • S. P. Chan
    • 1
  1. 1.Endocrine Unit, Department of MedicineUniversity Malaya Medical CentreKuala LumpurMalaysia
  2. 2.Department of OtorhinolaryngologyUniversity Malaya Medical CentreKuala LumpurMalaysia

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