Pituitary Tumors Signal Risks for Other Cancers in Extended Families

People who develop tumors in their pituitary gland have a significantly higher risk for other, unrelated types of cancer—and so do their relatives, a new study using records from the Utah Population Database (UPDB) has found.

University of Utah researchers report in the Journal of Neurosurgery that of 591 people in the UPDB who had pituitary tumors, 16 had malignant pituitary tumors and 77 others had primary tumors of a different type from pituitary. The total of 93 people with tumors among that group was significantly higher than the 71 cases expected. The researchers cited the risk for developing prostate cancer as being significantly higher in those with pituitary tumors.

Their relatives—ranging from parents and siblings to aunts and uncles to grandparents and first cousins—had significantly higher risks for developing colon, prostate, kidney and other types of cancer. The risk for getting any particular cancer depended on how closely related an individual was to the person with the pituitary tumor.

“Using this remarkable database (UPDB), we previously had determined that pituitary tumors cluster in families,” says Lisa Cannon-Albright, Ph.D., professor of internal medicine, chief of the Division of Genetic Epidemiology in the School of Medicine, and Utah Genome Project investigator. “Given that information, we wanted to know if someone was predisposed to a pituitary tumor, would their relatives be as well, and if so, would it mean we’d found evidence for a new gene or syndrome?”

Pituitary tumors account for almost 7 percent of primary brain and central nervous system tumors, and their prevalence is estimated at between 14 percent and 23 percent, respectively, according to, William T. Couldwell, M.D. Ph.D., professor and chair of neurosurgery at the University of Utah, who conducted the study with Cannon-Albright.

“The data in the UPDB indicate there is a significantly elevated co-prevalence of other tumors among people harboring pituitary tumors, and their relatives,” Couldwell says. “Our study suggests that common genetic or environmental co-mechanisms do play a role in tumor development among people with pituitary tumors and their relatives.”

Read more about the study.

The Risk For Cancer Was Higher Among First-Degree Relatives