Multiple endocrine neoplasia syndromes are caused by gene mutations, so they tend to run in families.
There are several types of multiple endocrine neoplasia syndromes, including type 1, type 2A, and type 2B.
Symptoms vary depending on which glands are affected.
Genetic screening tests can be done to detect disease in family members of people who have multiple endocrine neoplasia syndromes.
No cure is available, but doctors treat the changes in each gland as they occur with surgery or with drugs to control excess hormone production.
Multiple endocrine neoplasia syndromes can appear in infants or in people as old as age 70. These syndromes are usually inherited.
The tumors and the abnormally large glands often produce excess hormones. Although tumors or abnormal growth may occur in more than one gland at the same time, changes often take place over time.
Multiple endocrine neoplasia syndromes are caused by inherited genetic mutations. A single gene responsible for type 1 disease has been identified. Abnormalities in a different gene have been identified in people with types 2A and 2B disease.
Types of MEN Syndromes
Multiple endocrine neoplasia syndromes occur in three patterns, called types 1, 2A, and 2B, although the types occasionally overlap.
MEN Type 1 disease
People with multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 develop tumors, or excessive growth and activity, of two or more of the following glands:
The parathyroid glands (the small glands located next to the thyroid gland in the base of the neck)
Almost all people with multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 have tumors of the parathyroid glands. Most of the tumors are noncancerous, but they cause the glands to produce too much parathyroid hormone (primary hyperparathyroidism Hyperparathyroidism In hypercalcemia, the level of calcium in blood is too high. A high calcium level may result from a problem with the parathyroid glands, as well as from diet, cancer, or disorders affecting... read more ). The excess parathyroid hormone usually raises the levels of calcium in the blood, sometimes causing kidney stones Stones in the Urinary Tract Stones (calculi) are hard masses that form in the urinary tract and may cause pain, bleeding, or an infection or block of the flow of urine. Tiny stones may cause no symptoms, but larger stones... read more .
Many (30 to about 80%) of people with type 1 disease also develop tumors of the hormone-producing cells (islet cells) of the pancreas (also called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors Overview of Pancreatic Endocrine Tumors The pancreas is an organ located in the upper part of the abdomen. It produces digestive juices that are secreted into the digestive tract. The pancreas also produces insulin, which helps control... read more ).
More than half of islet cell tumors produce excessive gastrin, which stimulates the stomach to overproduce acid. People with tumors that produce gastrin generally develop peptic ulcers Peptic Ulcer Disease A peptic ulcer is a round or oval sore where the lining of the stomach or duodenum has been eaten away by stomach acid and digestive juices. Peptic ulcers can result from Helicobacter pylori... read more that often bleed, develop holes (perforate), and leak stomach contents into the abdomen, or block the stomach. The high acid levels commonly interfere with the activity of enzymes from the pancreas, resulting in diarrhea and fatty, smelly stools (steatorrhea). Some of these tumors produce high levels of insulin and, consequently, very low levels of sugar in the blood (hypoglycemia Hypoglycemia Hypoglycemia is abnormally low levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Hypoglycemia is most often caused by medications taken to control diabetes. Much less common causes of hypoglycemia include... read more ), especially if the person has not eaten for several hours. The remaining islet cell tumors may produce other hormones, such as vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, which can cause severe diarrhea and lead to dehydration Dehydration Dehydration is a deficiency of water in the body. Vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating, burns, kidney failure, and use of diuretics may cause dehydration. People feel thirsty, and as dehydration... read more . Some islet cell tumors produce no hormones at all.
Some of the islet cell tumors are cancerous and able to spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body. In people who have type 1 disease, cancerous islet cell tumors tend to grow more slowly than cancerous islet cell tumors that develop in people who do not have type 1 disease.
Some people with type 1 disease develop pituitary gland tumors. Some of these tumors produce the hormone prolactin, causing menstrual abnormalities and often breast secretions (galactorrhea Galactorrhea Galactorrhea is the production of breast milk in men or in women who are not breastfeeding. The most common cause of galactorrhea is overproduction of the hormone prolactin (hyperprolactinemia)... read more ) in women who are not nursing and decreased sexual desire and erectile dysfunction Erectile Dysfunction (ED) Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to attain or sustain an erection satisfactory for sexual intercourse. (See also Overview of Sexual Dysfunction in Men.) Every man occasionally has... read more (impotence) in men. Other tumors produce growth hormone, leading to acromegaly Gigantism and Acromegaly Overproduction of growth hormone causes excessive growth. In children, the condition is called gigantism. In adults, it is called acromegaly. Excessive growth hormone is almost always caused... read more ). A small percentage of pituitary tumors produce corticotropin, which overstimulates the adrenal glands, leading them to produce high levels of corticosteroid hormones and causing Cushing syndrome Cushing Syndrome In Cushing syndrome, the level of corticosteroids is excessive, usually due to taking corticosteroid drugs or overproduction by the adrenal glands. Cushing syndrome usually results from taking... read more . A few pituitary tumors produce no hormones at all. Some pituitary tumors cause headaches, impaired vision, and decreased pituitary gland function by pressing against nearby parts of the brain.
In some people with type 1 disease, tumors or excessive growth and activity of the thyroid and adrenal glands develop. A small percentage of people develop a different type of tumor, known as carcinoid tumors Carcinoid Tumors and Carcinoid Syndrome Carcinoid tumors are noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant) growths that sometimes produce excessive amounts of hormone-like substances (such as serotonin), resulting in the carcinoid... read more . Some people also develop noncancerous growths just below the skin.
MEN Type 2A disease
People with multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A develop tumors or excessive growth and activity in two or three of the following glands:
The parathyroid glands
Occasionally, an itchy skin condition called cutaneous lichen amyloidosis occurs in people with type 2A disease. Hirschsprung disease Hirschsprung Disease Hirschsprung disease is a birth defect in which a section of the large intestine is missing the nerve network that controls the intestine's rhythmic contractions. Symptoms of intestinal obstruction... read more is present in 2 to 5% of people with type 2A disease.
Almost everyone with type 2A disease develops medullary thyroid cancer Medullary thyroid cancer The cause of thyroid cancer is not known, but the thyroid gland is very sensitive to radiation, which may cause cancerous changes. Thyroid cancer is more common among people who were treated... read more . About 40 to 50% develop certain tumors of the adrenal glands (pheochromocytomas Pheochromocytoma A pheochromocytoma is a tumor that usually originates from the adrenal glands’ chromaffin cells, causing overproduction of catecholamines, powerful hormones that induce high blood pressure and... read more ), which usually raise blood pressure because of the epinephrine and other substances they produce. The high blood pressure may be intermittent or constant and is often very severe.
Some people with type 2A disease have overactive parathyroid glands. High levels of parathyroid hormone cause increased levels of calcium in the blood. The increased calcium often causes no symptoms but leads to kidney stones Stones in the Urinary Tract Stones (calculi) are hard masses that form in the urinary tract and may cause pain, bleeding, or an infection or block of the flow of urine. Tiny stones may cause no symptoms, but larger stones... read more in about 25% of people.
MEN Type 2B disease
Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2B can consist of
Growths around nerves (neuromas)
Many people with type 2B disease have no family history of it. In these people, the disease is the result of a new gene defect (genetic mutation).
The medullary thyroid cancer Medullary thyroid cancer The cause of thyroid cancer is not known, but the thyroid gland is very sensitive to radiation, which may cause cancerous changes. Thyroid cancer is more common among people who were treated... read more that occurs in type 2B disease tends to develop at an early age and has been found in infants as young as 3 months of age. The medullary thyroid tumors in type 2B disease grow faster and spread more rapidly than those in type 2A disease.
Most people with type 2B disease develop neuromas in their mucous membranes. The neuromas appear as glistening bumps around the lips, tongue, and lining of the mouth. Neuromas may also occur on the eyelids and glistening surfaces of the eyes, including the conjunctiva and cornea. The eyelids and lips may thicken, and the lips may turn inside out (become everted).
Digestive tract abnormalities cause constipation and diarrhea. Occasionally, the colon develops large, dilated loops (megacolon). These abnormalities probably result from neuromas growing on the intestinal nerves.
People with type 2B disease often develop spinal abnormalities, especially curvature of the spine. They may also have abnormalities of the bones of the skull, feet, and thighs. Many people have long limbs and loose joints. Some of these abnormalities are similar to those that occur in Marfan syndrome Marfan Syndrome Marfan syndrome is a rare hereditary disorder of connective tissue, resulting in abnormalities of the eyes, bones, heart, blood vessels, lungs, and central nervous system. This syndrome is caused... read more .
Diagnosis of MEN Syndromes
Hormone levels in blood and urine
Sometimes imaging tests
Tests are available to identify the genetic abnormality present in each of the multiple endocrine neoplasia syndromes. Doctors usually do these genetic tests in people who have one of the tumors typical of multiple endocrine neoplasia and in family members of people already diagnosed with one of the syndromes. Screening of family members, sometimes even before birth, is particularly important because about half of the children of people with a multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome inherit the disease.
Blood and urine tests are done to detect elevated hormone levels.
Imaging tests, such as ultrasonography Ultrasonography Ultrasonography uses high-frequency sound (ultrasound) waves to produce images of internal organs and other tissues. A device called a transducer converts electrical current into sound waves... read more , computed tomography Computed Tomography (CT) In computed tomography (CT), which used to be called computed axial tomography (CAT), an x-ray source and x-ray detector rotate around a person. In modern scanners, the x-ray detector usually... read more (CT), magnetic resonance imaging Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) In magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a strong magnetic field and very high frequency radio waves are used to produce highly detailed images. MRI does not use x-rays and is usually very safe... read more (MRI), and positron emission tomography Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Positron emission tomography (PET) is a type of radionuclide scanning. A radionuclide is a radioactive form of an element, which means it is an unstable atom that becomes more stable by releasing... read more (PET), are also needed to help doctors determine locations of the tumors.
Treatment of MEN Syndromes
Often removal of the thyroid gland
No cure is known for any of the multiple endocrine neoplasia syndromes. Doctors treat the changes in each gland individually.
A tumor is treated by removing it surgically when possible. Some small pancreatic islet cell tumors are not removed immediately but are monitored to see whether they are increasing and treated if they become large enough to cause problems. Before removal or if removal is not possible, doctors give drugs to correct the hormone imbalance caused by gland overactivity. An excessively large and overactive gland without a tumor is treated with drugs to counteract the effects of gland overactivity.
Because medullary thyroid cancer is ultimately fatal if untreated, doctors will most likely recommend preventive surgical removal of the thyroid gland if genetic testing has revealed evidence of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A or type 2B. This preventive surgery is done even if the diagnosis of medullary thyroid cancer has not been made before the surgery. Unlike other types of thyroid cancer, this aggressive type of thyroid cancer cannot be treated with radioactive iodine. Once the thyroid is removed, people must take thyroid hormone for the rest of their lives. If thyroid cancer has spread, other treatments (such as chemotherapy or other drugs) can sometimes help the person live longer. Pheochromocytomas must be removed surgically after the person’s blood pressure has been controlled with appropriate drugs.
Because tumors may not all develop at the same time, people with multiple endocrine neoplasia may become anxious and worried about when or whether another tumor will develop. Counseling may be needed to help people cope with this anxiety.