Acromegaly medical therapy

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Overview

The goals of treatment are to reduce GH production to normal levels, to relieve the pressure that the growing pituitary tumor exerts on the surrounding brain areas, to preserve normal pituitary function, and to reverse or ameliorate the symptoms of acromegaly. Currently, treatment options include surgical removal of the tumor, medical therapy, and radiation therapy of the pituitary.

Medical Therapy

Two medications currently are used to treat acromegaly. These drugs reduce both GH secretion and tumor size. Medical therapy is sometimes used to shrink large tumors before surgery. Bromocriptine (Parlodel) in divided doses of about 20 mg daily reduces GH secretion from some pituitary tumors. Side effects include gastrointestinal upset, nausea, vomiting, light-headedness when standing, and nasal congestion. These side effects can be reduced or eliminated if medication is started at a very low dose at bedtime, taken with food, and gradually increased to the full therapeutic dose. Because bromocriptine can be taken orally, it is an attractive choice as primary drug or in combination with other treatments. However, bromocriptine lowers GH and IGF-1 levels and reduces tumor size in less than half of patients with acromegaly. Some patients report improvement in their symptoms although their GH and IGF-1 levels still are elevated.

The second medication used to treat acromegaly is octreotide (Sandostatin) and lanreotide (Somatulin). Both are synthetic forms of a brain hormone, somatostatin, that stops GH production. The long-acting forms of these drugs must be injected every 2 to 4 weeks for effective treatment. Most patients with acromegaly respond to this medication. In many patients, GH levels fall within one hour and headaches improve within minutes after the injection. Several studies have shown that octreotide and lanreotide are effective for long-term treatment. Octreotide and lanreotide have also been used successfully to treat patients with acromegaly caused by non-pituitary tumors.

Because octreotide inhibits gastrointestinal and pancreatic function, long-term use causes digestive problems such as loose stools, nausea, and gas in one third of patients. In addition, approximately 25 percent of patients develop gallstones, which are usually asymptomatic. In rare cases, octreotide treatment can cause diabetes. On the other hand, scientists have found that in some acromegaly patients who already have diabetes, octreotide can reduce the need for insulin and improve blood sugar control.

The latest development in the medical treatment of acromegaly is the use of growth hormone receptor antagonists. The only available member of this family is pegvisomant (Somavert). By blocking the action of the endogenous growth hormone molecules, this compound is able to control disease activity of acromegaly in virtually all patients. Pegvisomant has to be administered subcutaneously by daily injections. Combinations of long-acting somatostatin analogues and weekly injections of pegvisomant seem to be equally effective as daily injections of pegvisomant.

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