Pituitary Tumors

About Pituitary Tumors

The pituitary gland produces many of the body’s hormones. An individual who has a pituitary tumor may experience symptoms either because the tumor itself presses on the brain and/or visual center, or because it may produce excess hormones. Some pituitary tumors are treatable using medications, while others may require surgical removal and/or stereotactic radiosurgery at a Gamma Knife center. Many patients benefit from a combination approach, which a doctor may recommend.

Pituitary Tumor Development

The majority of pituitary tumors are noncancerous and may never cause symptoms or be diagnosed. However, some people may have tumors that produce more than the normal amount of hormones, which triggers endocrine symptoms – these lesions are called “secreting.” Some pituitary tumors grow large enough to compress the visual center of the brain and are often discovered due to visual-related symptoms. Pituitary tumors can occur at any age and to anyone. Older adults and people who have a family history of certain hereditary conditions, including multiple endocrine neoplasia type I (MEN I), have a greater risk of developing pituitary tumors.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Pituitary Tumors

Pituitary symptoms vary, depending on whether a tumor produces too much of a hormone or if symptoms stem from damage or pressure caused by the tumor’s size. Tumors that produce too much of one or more hormones can cause:

  • Cushing’s syndrome: acne, bone pain, excessive hair growth in women, rounded face and upper body obesity
  • Gigantism: excessive growth, headaches and large hands and feet
  • Hyperthyroidism: concentration problems, fatigue, increased appetite and weight loss
  • Nipple discharge

Large pituitary tumors that put pressure on the pituitary gland and surrounding structures may trigger:

  • Headaches
  • Lethargy
  • Nasal drainage
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Problems smelling
  • Vision problems

If a doctor suspects a pituitary tumor, he may order diagnostic imaging. These tests include computed tomography scans (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI.) If a patient undergoes these tests for another condition, the pituitary tumor may be discovered incidentally.

Treatment of Pituitary Tumors

Pituitary tumor treatment depends on which cell type is in excess and if the endocrine system is affected. Potential therapies include:

  • Monitoring: For small, asymptomatic tumors, the doctor may opt to “watch and wait.”
  • Medication: For secreting tumors, this may be used to shrink the tumor or counter hormone effects.
  • Stereotactic Radiosurgery: Targeted radiation therapy using a system like Leksell Gamma Knife®Icon shrinks the tumor and spares healthy tissue.
  • Pituitary Tumor Surgery: This surgery removes all or part of the tumor.

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