BOSTON – More than a third of 419 children treated for brain tumors at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center later developed endocrine problems, according to a review presented at the Endocrine Society annual meeting.

Over 60% of the 96 suprasellar tumor patients developed endocrine dysfunction, which isn’t surprising considering the location of the tumor, but wide-ranging endocrine problems were also common in the 145 posterior fossa, 158 supratentorial, and 20 spinal cord cases, ranging from 14% in the spinal cord group to 42% in the posterior fossa group, after some combination of radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery based on tumor location and other factors.

Dr. Vincent Horne

Dr. Vincent Horne

“Even with tumors that aren’t supposed to be high risk, there was a high risk of endocrinopathies. We need yearly screening of these patients” for about 6 years, after which symptom-based screening may be sufficient. The clock should be restarted if there’s a recurrence. “Not everyone does this” at Cincinnati Children’s and probably most other institutions, said investigator and endocrinology fellow Dr. Vincent Horne.

The findings are “changing how our oncology department is thinking about [screening]; there’s a concentrated effort to increase proactive screening and follow these patients long term,” he said.

“Even within our specialized, multidisciplinary center,” endocrinopathy screening referrals were low, about 61% overall and only 80% in the suprasellar group. “Patients at highest risk” – those with craniopharyngioma – “are being seen early by us,” but others aren’t being referred. It’s possible that the extent of endocrine problems after pediatric brain tumor treatment is simply unrecognized, he said.

Endocrine abnormalities were found in 114 (45%) of the 254 patients evaluated, which translated to problems in more than a third of all patients.

More than half of the children had more than one problem, and most of the issues occurred within 6 years of treatment. Central hypothyroidism was found in 53% of the children, probably because Cincinnati Children’s already has thyroid screening in place.

About 40% were growth hormone deficient, and almost a third had precocious puberty. About 30% were gonadotropin-releasing hormone deficient, over 20% had primary hypothyroidism, and about the same had diabetes insipidus. Just over 6% were hyperprolactinemic.

Of the 151 patients who completed adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) testing, 14.6% were deficient. ACTH deficient children were about evenly split between the suprasellar and supratentorial groups, with the remaining in the posterior fossa cohort.

“We are probably not thinking about” the risk of radiation “to locations like the posterior fossa. That group actually had the highest risk of primary hypothyroidism [20%] because of the spinal radiation. The supratentorial group is also receiving radiation; even though we think we are missing the hypothalamus, obviously that’s not necessarily the case,” Dr. Horne said.

His team looked into endocrine screening because previous studies “were limited and done years ago.” People are living longer now after treatment, “so we need to think about how to screen for endocrine disease. This is an attempt to clarify how we should do it,” he said.

Children were a median of 8 years old at diagnosis, and the median radiation dose was 54 Gy.

There was no industry funding for the work, and the investigators had no disclosures.