Pineal Tumors: Symptoms and Treatments

Learning About Your Condition

Finding out you have a brain tumor can create stress and worry, but there are steps you can take to reduce the anxiety you may be feeling. One powerful way to set your mind at ease is to learn about your condition and the treatment options available in northern NJ. The following information gives a little background about pineal tumors in general, reviews common pineal tumor symptoms and discusses different treatment approaches. This can give you a good starting-off point in your next conversation with your personal doctor, who can help you relate the general information here to your specific case.

Overview of Pineal Tumors

The pineal gland is about the size and shape of a pea and lies deep within the brain. Despite its small size, its function is an important one. The gland secretes melatonin, a hormone that regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Though tumors in this area are rare, they do occur and typically develop in children and young adults.

Generally speaking, there are two types of pineal tumors. The first category is tumors made up of cells from the pineal gland itself. If these cells are the support cells known as glial cells, the tumor is classified as a glioma. Tumors made from other cell types are called pineocytomas, pineoblastoma or mixed pineal tumors. The second type of pineal tumor is a germ cell tumor. These tumors are more common than true pineal cell tumors and typically occur elsewhere in the body. However, they can form in the brain exclusively in the pineal region.

Like many other tumors, pineal tumors are classified based on grade, or aggressiveness. Both pineal cell tumors and germ cell tumors can be either benign or malignant. This is one reason it is important to work with a specialist in the NJ area who has experience with diagnosing and treating pineal tumors.

Pineal Tumor Symptoms

Regardless of which cells make up your tumor, pineal tumor symptoms are typically related to the fact that there is excess growth within an already crowded space. There are a few basic issues the tumor can cause. First, it can block the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), leading to a condition called hydrocephalus. The tumor can also impinge on brain tissues, nerves or blood vessels, leading to symptoms. Your body’s physiologic functions can also be impacted if the tumor presses on the hypothalamus, which can affect hormone release and function.

Hydrocephalus is commonly the first symptom. Symptoms of hydrocephalus include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Vision problems
  • Difficulty with balance, coordination and walking
  • Impaired memory

Hydrocephalus can be caused by other conditions as well, so your doctor will likely use diagnostic imaging to determine the cause of the blockage. This is yet another reason you will need to work with someone experienced and knowledgeable in treating pituitary tumors in the tri-state area.

Pineal Tumor Treatment Options

Your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan based on your individual condition. Factors your doctor will take into consideration include:

  • Whether you have a pineal cell tumor or germ cell tumor
  • The grade of your tumor (benign vs malignant)
  • The size of your tumor
  • The location of your tumor
  • Your overall health, including age and any complicating health conditions you have

Using this information, your doctor will determine which treatment path is most appropriate for your specific case. Options include surgery, Gamma Knife radiosurgery, fractionated radiotherapy and medications. Most patients will benefit from a combination approach.

Recall that the pineal gland lies deep within the brain. This can make surgery difficult. However, surgery is often necessary if your tumor is particularly large. Should this be the case, your doctor may recommend surgical removal of as much of your tumor as possible, followed by another form of therapy. Sometimes this is medication (chemotherapy), but whether or not your pineal tumor will respond depends on the specific tumor type. You may also require chemotherapy if you have a very aggressive tumor that has spread throughout the body.

Gamma Knife radiosurgery is often an excellent option as a primary or adjunct treatment and is available in northern NJ. Though it sounds like surgery, Gamma Knife radiosurgery is an advanced form of radiation therapy that targets just your tumor, sparing healthy surrounding tissues. This may be the treatment of choice if your tumor is inaccessible via surgery, you are not a good surgical candidate for health reasons or you simply prefer a minimally invasive approach.

Discuss Your Case with Your Doctor

As you move forward, it is important to maintain open communication with your personal doctor. Self-education is a great way to set your mind at ease about your pineal tumor. By continuing the discussion with your doctor about the information you are learning on your own, he or she can help you relate it to your individual case. Understanding your pineal tumor symptoms and treatment options will help you know what to expect as you move forward, and your doctor will help ensure you are confident before, during and after your treatment.

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