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Open access

Siew Hui Foo and Shahada A H Sobah

Summary

Hypopituitarism is a rare presentation of Burkitt's lymphoma (BL). The purpose of this report is to present a case of BL presenting with panhypopituitarism and to review other case reports of lymphoma presenting with pituitary dysfunction to highlight the distinguishing features of these cases from other benign aetiologies of pituitary dysfunction such as non-functioning pituitary adenomas. We reviewed a total of 11 cases of lymphoma presenting with pituitary dysfunction published from 1998 to 2013 including the present case. The demographics, clinical presentations, laboratory features, radiological findings, histological diagnosis, treatment administered and outcomes were described. Of the total number of patients, 45.5% of the cases had diffuse large B-cell lymphoma while 27.3% had BL. Anterior pituitary dysfunction was more common than posterior pituitary dysfunction at presentation. The other common associated presenting symptoms were painful ophthalmoplegia, cranial nerve palsies and constitutional symptoms. Hypothalamic–pituitary abnormalities were often demonstrated radiologically to be associated with cavernous sinus and/or stalk involvement. All patients who completed immunochemotherapy responded haematologically. Pituitary dysfunction also improved in most cases although the recovery tended to be partial. In conclusion, a high index of suspicion of underlying malignancy, such as lymphoma, should be present in patients presenting with acute pituitary dysfunction associated with painful ophthalmoplegia, rapidly evolving neurological features, radiological features atypical of a pituitary adenoma and constitutional symptoms. An early diagnosis is essential as prompt initiation of definitive therapy will induce disease remission and recovery of pituitary dysfunction.

Learning points

  • Hypopituitarism may be the presenting symptom of lymphoma in the absence of associated overt symptoms or signs of a haematological malignancy resulting in delay in diagnosis and institution of treatment.

  • Pituitary dysfunction due to tumour infiltration has a greater tendency to involve the posterior pituitary and infundibulum resulting in diabetes insipidus and hyperprolactinaemia compared with a non-functioning pituitary adenoma.

  • The common associated symptoms of hypopituitarism due to lymphoma infiltration of the hypothalamic–pituitary system include painful ophthalmoplegia, cranial nerve palsies and constitutional symptoms.

  • Radiological abnormalities of the hypothalamic–pituitary region are usually present and often associated with cavernous sinus or stalk involvement.

  • With early institution of definitive treatment, both haematological response and improvement of pituitary dysfunction are expected although the reversal of hypopituitarism tends to be partial and delayed.

  • A high index of suspicion of underlying malignancy such as lymphoma should be present in patients presenting with acute pituitary dysfunction associated with painful ophthalmoplegia, radiological features atypical of pituitary adenomas and constitutional symptoms to enable early diagnosis and prompt initiation of definitive therapy.