The ectopic secretion of prolactin by neoplasms has been reported only rarely although in one preliminary report it has been found to be present commonly in tumor extracts. To ascertain whether this is due to a true rarity of prolactin-secreting tumors or to the fact that prolactin hypersecretion causes few notable clinical symptoms in patients with cancer, we measured prolactin levels by radioimmunoassay in the serums of 215 patients who had a variety of malignancies. Prolactin levels were elevated (> 25 ng/ml) in 15 patients. In 12 of these 15 patients, the elevations could be explained by the use of phenothiazine or opiates, or prior irradiation to the chest wall or head. Additional serum samples showed clearly normal prolactin levels in one of the patients. Of the entire series of 215 patients, therefore, only two patients (1 percent) had modestly elevated prolactin levels without having known causes for hyperprolactinemia: one patient with squamous cell carcinoma of the lung (prolactin 34.1 ng/ml) and one patient with breast cancer (prolactin 45.4 ng/ml). Even in these two patients the hyperprolactinemia could as likely be due to stimulation of afferent nerves in the chest wall as to ectopic secretion by the tumors. There is no clear evidence in our study or in the literature that prolactin is secreted ectopically; this is in sharp contrast to many studies showing the high frequencies of the ectopic secretion of a number of other hormones. Why this is so is unknown.
ASJC Scopus subject areas