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 prolactin. Though rare, too much of this hormone can cause various health problems.
What Is Hyperprolactinemia?
Prolactin is important in breast development during pregnancy and milk production after giving birth. But too much prolactin, called hyperprolactinemia, can cause the following symptoms:
In Preteens and Teens
Problems with functioning of the ovaries
Problems with functioning of the testicles
Problems with pubertal development
Breast milk production by a person who is not nursing
Breast milk production
Irregular or absent menstrual periods
Decreased testosterone levels that may cause low sex drive
Am I at Risk?
Risk for hyperprolactinemia after treatment for childhood cancer is quite low. But factors that increase risk include:
- radiation to the pituitary gland in very high doses;
- development of a second tumor (usually not cancerous) in the pituitary region of the brain;
- pregnancy; and
- certain medicines and drugs (such as marijuana and alcohol).
Rarely, a condition where the thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone can cause hyperprolactinemia, too.
Should I Be Checked for Hyperprolactinemia?
All childhood cancer survivors should have a long-term follow-up visit every year that includes measurement of your height and weight and assessment of your pubertal status, nutritional status, and overall well-being.
If you think you have hyperprolactinemia, your doctor can check your prolactin levels, too, with a blood test. If a problem is found, your doctor may order more tests and refer you to a doctor who specializes in hormone problems (an endocrinologist).
What If I Have Hyperprolactinemia?
Treatment for hyperprolactinemia varies for each person. Often, prolactin production can be suppressed with medicine. It a tumor on your pituitary gland is causing the problem, surgery or radiation may be needed.