Non Functioning Pituitary Tumors

Condition

Three most common types of non-functioning tumors are non-functioning pituitary adenomas, craniopharyingiomas, and Rathke's cleft cysts.There are also other types of tumors that can be found in the pituitary area. Most of them are non-cancerous. Other conditions, such as inflammation and infections can affect the pituitary and could be confused with tumors in MRI images.

Non-functioning pituitary adenoma

While some tumors of the pituitary secrete too many hormones that upset the balance of good health, other pituitary tumors do not secrete hormones. Instead, they may cause health problems because of their size and location. A non-functioning adenoma (a type of benign tumor) is one example. Non-functioning adenomas often is found when doctors perform an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) after a head injury or for some other reason, and they many not cause any symptoms or problems.

A non-functioning adenoma may cause headaches and vision problems. This type of pituitary tumor also may affect normal pituitary function, so the pituitary does not produce enough of the hormones necessary for good health, a condition called hypopituitarism. The symptoms of non-functioning adenomas fall into two categories—tumor mass effects and hyposecretion effects.

Tumor mass effects:
  • Vision problems (visual field disturbances), most commonly loss of peripheral vision, at the edges of your vision range
  • Headaches
  • Abnormal control of eye movements,sometimes causing double vision or inability to completely open one eye. 
Lack of pituitary hormones (hypopituitarism) effects:

Craniopharyingiomas and Rathke's cleft cysts

These masses on or near the pituitary gland are non-cancerous growths. Although they do not arise from the hormone-producing cells of the pituitary gland, they can interfere with normal pituitary function and can cause symptoms because of their size and location.

Craniopharyngiomas are most common during childhood, but can also be found and cause problems in older adults. Rathke’s cleft cysts are usually found in adults, but often do not cause symptoms unless they grow to a large size.

Symptoms of craniopharyngiomas and Rathke's cleft cysts include:

What are the treatment options for non-functioning pituitary tumors?

Lack of pituitary hormones (or hypopituitarism) effects

Your doctor will discuss with you whether you need pituitary surgery. Surgery is usually needed if your tumor affects your vision or threatens your vision, if it puts pressure on other nerves in your skull, if the tumor grows over time or it is believed to cause headaches.  Also, if your pituitary is not working well, many times removing the tumor can help.
The surgery is usually transsphenoidal microsurgery, and should be done by an experienced neurosurgeon. Your surgeon will reach the pituitary gland through your nose and the nasal sinuses. After surgery, vision problems improve in most people or they can go away all together.  Sometimes,  transsphenoidal surgery is not possible and the surgeon might need to reach the tumor through your scalp. If you have a large part of the tumor remaining or the tumor regrows, you may need more surgery and/or radiation therapy.

Surgery is not always needed. If your tumor does not cause any symptoms, you and your doctor might decide following your tumor with MRI scan and your hormone levels with blood tests from time to time.
Your doctor will do several blood tests to find out if there are problems with your pituitary hormones. Additional tests, called stimulation tests might be needed to check your pituitary function. They might also do tests to make sure your tumor is not making too much of any pituitary hormones; in other words, make sure you do not have a functioning tumor.
Hormone replacement may be necessary to restore normal hormone levels. In some cases, the pituitary functions normally after successful surgery to remove the tumor.

Craniopharyingiomas and Rathke's cleft cysts

Your doctor will do several blood tests to find out if there are problems with your pituitary hormones. Additional tests, called stimulation tests might be needed to check your pituitary function. They might also do tests to make sure your tumor is not making too much of any pituitary hormones; in other words, make sure you do not have a functioning tumor.

Hormone replacement may be necessary to restore normal hormone levels. In some cases, the pituitary functions normally after successful surgery to remove the tumor.

Your doctor will discuss with you whether you need pituitary surgery. Surgery is usually needed if your tumor affects your vision or threatens your vision, if it puts pressure on other nerves in your skull, if the tumor grows over time or it is believed to cause headaches.  Also, if your pituitary is not working well, many times removing the tumor can help.

The surgery is usually transsphenoidal microsurgery, and should be done by an experienced neurosurgeon. Your surgeon will reach the pituitary gland through your nose and the nasal sinuses. After surgery, vision problems improve in most people or they can go away all together.  Sometimes,  transsphenoidal surgery is not possible and the surgeon might need to reach the tumor through your scalp If you have a large part of the tumor remaining or the tumor regrows, you may need more surgery and/or radiation therapy.

Surgery is not always needed. If your tumor does not cause any symptoms, you and your doctor might decide following your tumor with MRI scan and your hormone levels with blood tests from time to time.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What type of pituitary tumor do I have?
  • Are my headaches caused by my tumor?
  • How is my pituitary function? What tests do I need to have?
  • Does my pituitary tumor make any hormones?
  • Do I need to take any hormones?
  • Should I see an endocrinologist?
  • Do I need surgery? What if I do not have surgery?
  • Does the surgeon I am referred to specialize in pituitary surgery?
  • What should I expect after pituitary surgery?
  • Will I need radiation therapy?
  • How often do I need to have MRI scan to follow my tumor?
  • How often do I need to have blood tests?
Last Updated:
FEATURED RESOURCE

Find an Endocrinologist

Find an endocrinologist today to ensure that you are on the path to health with the right medical care. Keep Your Body In Balance!


YOU MAY BE INTERESTED IN...

About this Content

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.

Ensuring the Quality of our Content

All Network materials, including the content on this site, are reviewed by experts in the field of endocrinology to ensure the most balanced, accurate, and relevant information available. The information on this site and Network publications do not replace the advice of a trained healthcare provider.

Advertisements and Site Content

Paid advertisements appear on the Hormone Health Network. Advertising participation does not influence editorial decisions or content.

Back to top