The pituitary gland is one of several glands in the body that produce important hormones. In some instances, abnormal growths can develop within the pituitary gland—these are called pituitary tumors, and they lead to changing levels of hormones produced by the gland.
Most pituitary tumors are noncancerous growths (benign adenomas), meaning they stay in the gland or surrounding tissues and do not spread to other parts of the body. Here are some basic facts you need to know about pituitary tumors, including how to recognize and treat them.
Symptoms and Complications
Not all pituitary tumors cause noticeable symptoms, but in cases where they are present, symptoms can include:
- • Headaches
- • Vision problems
- • In women, changes in menstrual cycles
- • In men, impotence—the inability to achieve or maintain an erection, caused by hormone changes
- • Infertility— the inability to have children
- • Inappropriate production of breast milk
- • Cushing’s syndrome—a combination of weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes and easy bruising caused by overproduction of hormone
- • Acromegaly—enlargement of extremities or limbs, and thickening of the skull and jaw caused by excess growth hormone
- • Unexplained tiredness
- • Mood changes or irritability
Symptoms of pituitary tumors can be exhibited in three ways:
- • Producing too much of one or more hormones: An excess of growth hormone, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone and gonadotropins may be produced.
- • Producing too little of one or more hormones: Pressing on the pituitary gland can cause affect the production of the same hormones listed above.
- • Pressing on the optic nerves or, in rarer cases, on the nerves controlling eye movements. This causes either partial or complete vision loss, or double vision.
Along with possible vision loss, pituitary tumors can cause permanent hormone deficiency.. A rare but serious complication, pituitary apoplexy, is marked by sudden bleeding into the tumor and will feel like the worst headache of your life. This condition requires immediate emergency treatment.
There are no known direct causes for uncontrolled cell growth in the pituitary gland. A small percentage of cases run in families, but most do not appear to be influenced directly by genetics—scientists still suspect genetics play a role in tumor development, however.
Risk factors of pituitary tumors include these three hereditary syndromes:
- • Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1): Families with this condition have increased risk.
- • Carney complex: A genetic condition that can increase risk
- • Familial acromegaly: A condition in adults caused by too much growth hormone
In many cases of pituitary tumors, different types of doctors work together to craft an overall treatment plan utilizing several treatment types. Treatment options depend on factors such as the type and stage of the tumor, its possible side effects, patient preferences and the overall health of the patient. Treatment options may include:
- • Active surveillance: For people with no symptoms and normal hormone production, this approach—also called watchful waiting—can be enough through careful monitoring to watch for any signs of tumor progression.
- • Surgery: The most common treatment for a pituitary tumor, surgery involves removing the tumor. About 95 percent of these surgeries are done through the nasal passages, and others are done through an opening in the skull—both are considered equally safe and effective if performed by a skilled surgeon.
- • Radiation therapy: The use of high-energy X-rays or other particles to destroy tumor cells. There are several different types and possible side effects, and your doctor can discuss these with you.
- • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): Can include replacement of hormones such as thyroid hormones, adrenal hormones, growth hormone, testosterone in men and estrogen in women.
- • Drug therapy: Certain medications can help if the pituitary gland is overproducing a hormone.
- • Care for symptoms and side effects: Tumors and their treatments can cause side effects, and a big part of care in many cases is limiting these side effects along with noticeable symptoms of the tumor. These treatments will often be in addition to treatments to remove the tumor.
If you are experiencing symptoms of a pituitary tumor, your doctor can offer proper diagnosis and a recommendation for treatment.
Our Utah County Endocrinologist helps diagnose and treat endocrine system disorders—including complex cases. As trained specialists, our providers know the latest treatments and technologies to treat a variety of disorders.
“Pituitary Gland Tumor Guide.” Cancer.net. http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/pituitary-gland-tumor/introduction
“Pituitary tumors.” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pituitary-tumors/home/ovc-20157627