Learning you have a brain tumor can be an overwhelming and emotional process. But stop and consider what you’re doing right now. You are taking the time to learn more about pituitary tumor awareness, including your condition and treatment options. You may not realize it, but self-education is a powerful way to develop confidence, set your mind at ease and even establish a sense of control instead of feeling like things are happening “to” you.
Whether you already have your diagnosis or are still seeking answers, the information below will help you better understand pituitary tumors, including symptoms and treatment options. This will give you a jumping-off point to continue the discussion with your doctor, who can help relate what you have learned to your condition.
Understanding Pituitary Tumors
Pituitary tumor awareness is key to understanding your condition. The pituitary gland may be small – about the size of a pea – but it is responsible for maintaining many of the body’s most essential functions. That’s because it releases over a dozen different hormones that affect growth and maturation, reproductive function, the adrenal system, thyroid gland and many other areas of the body. It’s sometimes even referred to as the “master gland” of the body.
The gland itself sits in an area of the skull called the sella turcica, just behind the back of the nose. Most pituitary tumors are benign, which means they are not cancerous. Many patients never realize they have a pituitary tumor until it is detected when performing diagnostic tests for a different reason. However, other patients will experience pituitary tumor symptoms due to its size and location or the hormones it releases.
Symptoms of a Pituitary Tumor
Pituitary tumors are highly variable in their presentation, and so are the symptoms people experience. Again, many patients have very small pituitary tumors that never cause any issues. However, if symptoms do occur, they can result from two different characteristics of the tumor: its size and location, as well as whether or not it secretes hormones.
If a pituitary tumor grows large enough, it can press on nearby structures and lead to symptoms. These include:
- Headache, nausea and/or fatigue
- Impaired sense of smell and/or nasal drainage
- Eyesight changes, including blurred and/or double vision
- Facial numbness
If your tumor secretes hormones, the symptoms you experience will depend on which hormones are present in excess. Symptoms of secreting pituitary tumors include:
- Cushing’s syndrome, characterized by acne, upper body obesity, excessive hair growth, “buffalo hump” of fat deposited at the base of the neck, round or “moon” face and thickened skin
- Reproductive issues, including interrupted menstruation and infertility, erectile dysfunction and nipple discharge
- Joint and bone pain, enlarged hands and feet, headaches and growth of the skull, which is often noticed when a hat no longer fits
- Thyroid dysfunction, leading to weight loss, decreased appetite and problems with concentration and energy levels
Treatment Options for a Pituitary Tumor
If you have been diagnosed with a pituitary tumor, your doctor will work with you to develop the most appropriate treatment plan for your condition. Treatment options will depend on factors like the size and location of your pituitary tumor, whether or not it is secreting hormones and your personal health history. Possible options are outlined below, and your doctor may recommend just one or a combination approach.
“Watch and Wait”
If your pituitary tumor is small and not causing any symptoms, your doctor may not recommend any treatment at this time. However, if your tumor grows and/or begins secreting hormones, treatment may become necessary. Your doctor will develop a follow-up schedule to monitor your tumor. It will be important to keep up with these appointments so any changes can be detected as soon as possible.
Sometimes the effects of a secreting tumor (or a tumor that is preventing the pituitary tumor from releasing some hormones properly) can be managed with medication. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to help manage symptoms and make you more comfortable until more definitive treatment is performed.
Pituitary Tumor Surgery
Your doctor may recommend surgical removal of all or part of your pituitary tumor if it is very large, easily accessible and/or time is of the essence. The surgery takes place in a hospital while you are comfortable and asleep, followed by a recovery period to allow your body to heal. Pituitary tumor surgery can be performed using a traditional or minimally invasive surgical approach, depending on your circumstances and needs.
Gamma Knife Radiosurgery
Gamma Knife radiosurgery is an advanced form of radiation therapy that can shrink a pituitary tumor without any surgery, incisions or hospital stay. Using nearly 200 individual beams of high-dose radiation, the treatment can be focused precisely on your tumor, sparing healthy surrounding tissues. This can be an excellent option for patients who have a small tumor, who cannot undergo surgery or who simply prefer a minimally invasive treatment option.
Continue the Discussion
As you can appreciate, pituitary tumors range from symptomless to very complex. This is why it’s important to work with a doctor experienced in managing and treating pituitary tumors. He or she can help you better understand your condition, including the symptoms you are experiencing and how to treat them. If you still have questions about your pituitary tumor symptoms or treatment options, be sure to bring them up with your doctor at your next appointment. It’s important to be comfortable and confident as you move forward so you can rest easy and focus on getting better.