Some people who were treated for cancer during childhood may develop hormone problems as a result of changes to a complex system of glands known as the endocrine system. These glands include the pituitary, which makes a hormone called growth hormone. Not enough of this hormone can cause various health problems.
What Is Growth Hormone Deficiency?
Growth hormone is needed for children to grow to their full height potential, maintain normal blood sugar levels, and develop teeth. Adults need small amounts of growth hormone, too. It helps them maintain the right amount of fat, muscle, and bone. When the pituitary gland does not make enough growth hormone it can cause growth hormone deficiency.
Am I at Risk?
Certain cancer treatments can cause the pituitary gland to not make enough growth hormone. These include:
- cancer treatment before you reached your adult height, especially in very young patients;
- radiation to the brain, eye or eye socket, ear or midfacial area behind the cheekbones, area above the roof of your mouth, or whole body; and
- surgery to the brain.
What Are the Symptoms of Growth Hormone Deficiency?
Slowing of growth is one of the most obvious signs of growth hormone deficiency in children. Those who don’t have enough growth hormone usually grow less than 2 inches per year. They also are smaller and tend to look younger than children their same age.
Adults with growth hormone deficiency may have a number of different symptoms that could include:
- thinning of the bones;
- decreased muscle strength;
- increased body fat;
- high cholesterol;
- feeling tired, anxious, irritable, gloomy, or unmotivated; and
- having less interest in sex.
Should I Be Checked for Growth Hormone Deficiency?
All childhood cancer survivors should have a health check-up every year that includes measurement of your height and weight and assessment of your pubertal status, nutritional status, and overall well-being.
However, if you are at risk for growth hormone deficiency you should be checked every 6 months until you are done growing.
If your doctor thinks you might not be making enough growth hormone he or she will likely refer you to see a doctor who specializes in hormone problems (an endocrinologist).
What If I Have Growth Hormone Deficiency?
If you have growth hormone deficiency you might receive synthetic growth hormone to supplement or replace the growth hormone that your pituitary gland is not making. This is usually taken for several years, until you reach an acceptable adult height or your greatest possible height. Your endocrinologist can work with you if you have growth hormone deficiency that persists into adulthood.