Hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis integrity after cranial irradiation for childhood posterior fossa tumours

Med Pediatr Oncol. 2003 Apr;40(4):224-9. doi: 10.1002/mpo.10267.


Background: The evolution of anterior pituitary deficits after treatment for pituitary tumours has been largely attributed to local irradiation, but may be influenced as much by tumour mass or surgery. Other than growth hormone (GH) insufficiency, the late endocrinopathies after survival from non-central brain tumours have been little documented. The aim of this study was to investigate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in long-term survivors of cranial irradiation for childhood posterior fossa tumours.

Procedure: We studied long-term data in patients treated prepubertally for posterior fossa brain tumours and systematically referred by radiation oncologists for growth and pubertal monitoring to the London Centre for Paediatric Endocrinology over the last 25 years. They must have undergone HPA axis assessment twice, first prepubertally at documentation of growth failure, and second at completion of growth and puberty. Data on sixteen patients (12 males, 4 females; median age: 5.7 years, range: 2.5-8.8 years), who had undergone excision surgery with high dose cranial irradiation and/or chemotherapy for childhood posterior fossa tumours, were examined. Patients were followed for a median of 11.0 (range: 6.8-21.4) years after radiotherapy. HPA axis assessment was undertaken with the insulin-induced hypoglycaemia test (ITT). Basal thyroid, cortisol and gonadal function tests were undertaken annually throughout the follow-up period and any deficits replaced.

Results: At each ITT, all patients mounted an inadequate GH response. By the end of the follow-up period all patients remained severely GH deficient, two (12.5%) had partial ACTH insufficiency, one (6.3%) had secondary hypothyroidism but none were gonadotropin deficient or hyperprolactinaemic.

Conclusions: Unlike the severe, evolving multiple pituitary deficits after treatment of pituitary or central tumours in adults, these findings in children with posterior fossa tumours suggest that, with the exception of GH, neurotoxicity due to irradiation per se is associated with a low prevalence of anterior pituitary hormone deficiencies, even at a long follow-up. Since the children in this study were selected for assessment on the basis of growth failure, the high prevalence of GH insufficiency at first testing is to be expected; however, the early onset (within 1-3 years of irradiation) and permanence we have identified supports the view that GH is the most sensitive hormone to radiation injury.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cranial Irradiation / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Growth Disorders / etiology*
  • Growth Hormone / deficiency
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / radiation effects*
  • Infratentorial Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Male
  • Pituitary Diseases / etiology*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / radiation effects*
  • Radiation Injuries*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survivors


  • Growth Hormone