BACKGROUND: Growth hormone replacement therapy can improve the growth of the hearts of children that are too small for the size of their bodies, according to a new long-term study published in the leading child health journal Pediatrics. This is good news for the thousands of childhood cancer survivors who often must undergo treatment that can drastically reduce the size of their hearts.
THE PROBLEM: Children with lung cancer are often treated with a family of chemotherapy drugs called anthracyclines. As a result, they often suffer from a reduced and insufficient amount of heart muscle, which in turn can lead to heart failure later on in life.
ABOUT THE STUDY: Researchers at the University of Miami School of Medicine examined cardiac findings for survivors of childhood cancer who were treated with anthracyclines. They found that those who received growth hormone replacement therapy experienced more normalization of wall thickness of the left ventricle -- the main pumping chamber of the heart -- than those who did not receive the therapy. The results suggest that long-term survivors of childhood cancers like leukemia suffer from a growth hormone deficiency.
WHAT ARE GROWTH HORMONES: Growth hormones are produced by the pituitary gland, which can be found at the base of the brain and controls most of the hormones in the body. Prior to puberty, growth hormone stimulates the growth of long bones; in adults, it affects the growth of organs and other tissues. It is sometimes taken illegally by athletes because it helps muscles to grow. Deficiencies in growth hormone are often seen in the elderly; in children, such a deficiency can cut growth rates in half, leading to dwarfism.
ABOUT CHEMOTHERAPY: Chemotherapy is a treatment for cancer, in which certain drugs (poisonous to cancer cells) are injected into the blood to kill cancer cells or to stop them from spreading. They can travel around the body and attack cancer cells wherever they find them, so chemotherapy is used when cancers have spread beyond one region of the body. One of the earliest chemotherapy drugs was produced from mustard gas, used as a chemical weapon during World War I.