Pituitary Tumors



The most frequent type of pituitary disorder is a pituitary gland tumor. These tumors are fairly common in adults. They are not brain tumors and are almost always benign (that is, not cancer). In fact, cancerous tumors of this sort are extremely rare.

There are two types of tumors—functioning and non-functioning. Functioning tumors produce too much of a hormone normally made by the pituitary, and non-functioning tumors do not. Both types of tumors can cause problems if they are large and interfere with normal function of the pituitary gland and/or nearby structures in the brain.

The problems caused by pituitary tumors fall into three general categories:

1. Hypersecretion - too much of any hormone in the body is caused by a functioning pituitary tumor

2. Hormone deficiency- too little of any pituitary hormone can be caused by a large pituitary tumor, which interferes with the pituitary gland’s ability to produce hormones. Hypopituitarism can also result from pituitary surgery or radiation of a tumor

3. Tumor mass effects - as a pituitary tumor grows and presses against the pituitary gland or other areas in the brain, it may cause headaches, vision problems, or other health effects.

What are the symptoms of pituitary tumors?Hyperprolactinemia

Symptoms of pituitary tumors vary depending on whether they are caused by the tumor mass or hormonal changes (either too much or too little hormone). The symptoms also vary from person to person.

The list of possible symptoms is long. Symptoms of tumor mass pressure can include headaches and trouble seeing, especially problems with peripheral vision. Symptoms of low pituitary hormones include fatigue, dizziness, dry skin, irregular periods in women, and sexual dysfunction in men.

Other symptoms depend on the hormone that is affected. ACTH-producing tumors can cause Cushing's disease. Growth hormone-producing tumors can cause acromegaly. Prolactin-producing tumors (prolactinomas) can cause irregular or absent menstrual periods in women.They can also cause a woman's breasts to make milk, even if she's not pregnant. In men, these tumors can cause sexual dysfunction and breast enlargement.These conditions can have serious health risks.

How are pituitary tumors diagnosed?

After evaluating your symptoms, your doctor will order blood tests to measure hormone levels. Your doctor will also order an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan to look at the pituitary and other structures around it. If a pituitary tumor is found, more blood tests will be done to find out what type of tumor it is. Your doctor needs to know the type of tumor to plan treatment. Testing may also be needed to see if the tumor is affecting your vision.

How are pituitary tumors treated?

Treatment depends on the type of tumor, how large it is, what your symptoms it is causing, and your age and overall health. Your doctor will work to find the best treatment option for you. Some types of tumors can be treated with medication alone or can be observed over time for any changes. Other types of tumors require surgery, or a combination of treatments, including radiation therapy.

If you think you might have a problem with your pituitary gland, you should see a specialist. An endocrinologist is an expert in hormone-related conditions who can diagnose and treat your condition.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What kind of tumor do I have?
  • How will my tumor affect my health?
  • What treatment do I need for it?
  • What are the risks and benefits of each of my treatment options?
  • Should I see an endocrinologist?
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The Hormone Health Network is the public education affiliate of the Endocrine Society dedicated to helping both patients and doctors find information on the prevention, treatment and cure of hormone-related conditions.

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