CONDITIONS WE TREAT
Brain Tumor Center:
Pituitary Adenoma (Pituitary Tumor)

Advanced treatment, close to home

A pituitary adenoma, or pituitary tumor, is an abnormal growth of cells within the pituitary gland, a small, bean-sized gland that is below the hypothalamus, a structure at the base of the brain. It controls a system of hormones in the body that regulate growth, metabolism, the stress response, and functions of the sex organs via the thyroid gland, adrenal gland, ovaries, and testes.

In most cases, a pituitary tumor is benign, which means it is non-cancerous, grows slowly and does not spread to other parts of the body. It can, however, make the pituitary gland produce either too many or too few hormones, which can cause problems in the body.
A pituitary tumor or pituitary adenoma that makes hormones is called a “functioning tumor,” and can cause a wide array of symptoms depending upon the hormone affected. Tumors that don’t make hormones are called non-functioning tumors. Their symptoms are directly related to their growth in size and include:

  • Headaches
  • Vision problems
  • Nausea and vomiting

Diseases related to hormone abnormalities include:

  • Cushing’s disease, in which fat builds up in the face, back and chest, and the arms and legs become very thin
  • Acromegaly, a condition in which the hands, feet and face are larger than normal. 

Pituitary hormones that impact the sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, can make a woman produce breast milk even though she is not pregnant or nursing, or cause a man to lose his sex drive or lower his sperm count.
A pituitary tumor condition can often go undiagnosed because the symptoms resemble those of so many other more common diseases.
Treatment for pituitary tumors depends on:

  • The type of tumor
  • The size of the tumor
  • Whether the tumor has invaded or pressed on surrounding structures, such as the brain and visual pathways
  • The individual’s age and overall health

Three types of treatment are used for pituitary tumor (pituitary adenoma) conditions:

  • Surgical removal of the tumor
  • Radiation therapy, in which high-dose X-rays are used to kill the tumor cells
  • Drug therapy to shrink or destroy the tumor

Medications are also sometimes used to block the tumor from overproducing hormones. For some people, removing the tumor will also stop the pituitary’s ability to produce a specific hormone. These individuals will have to take synthetic hormones to replace the ones their pituitary gland no longer produces.

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