Pituitary Gland Tumor
(Source: NIH / MedlinePlus) The pituitary gland is a pea-sized endocrine gland located at the base of the brain. The pituitary helps control the release of hormones from other endocrine glands, such as the thyroid and adrenal glands. The pituitary also releases hormones that directly affect body tissues, such as bones and the breast's milk glands. A pituitary gland tumor is an abnormal growth in the pituitary gland, the part of the brain that regulates the body's balance of hormones.
Hormones released by the pituitary gland
- Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)
- Growth hormone (GH)
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)
As the tumor grows, hormone-releasing cells of the pituitary may be damaged, causing hypopituitarism.
Causes of pituitary tumors
The causes of pituitary tumors are unknown. However, some are part of a hereditary disorder called multiple endocrine neoplasia I (MEN I).
Other types of tumors that can be found in the same part of the head as a pituitary tumor:
- Tumors that have spread from cancer in another part of the body (metastatic tumors)
Symptoms of pituitary tumor
Most pituitary tumors produce too much of one or more hormones. As a result, symptoms of one or more of the following conditions can occur:
- Cushing syndrome
- Gigantism or acromegaly
- Nipple discharge
Symptoms caused by pressure from a larger pituitary tumor may include
- Nasal drainage
- Nausea and vomiting
- Problems with the sense of smell
- Visual changes
- Double vision
- Drooping eyelids
- Visual field loss
Rarely, these symptoms may occur suddenly and can be severe.
Treatment of pituitary tumor
Most pituitary tumors are noncancerous (benign)and therefore won't spread to other areas of the body. Up to 20% of people have pituitary tumors. However, many of these tumors do not cause symptoms and are never diagnosed during the person's lifetime. However, as they grow, they may place pressure on important nerves and blood vessels.
Surgery to remove the tumor is often necessary, especially if the tumor is pressing on the optic nerves, which could cause blindness.
Most of the time, pituitary tumors can be removed through the nose and sinuses. However, some tumors cannot be removed this way and will need to be removed through the skull (transcranial).
Radiation therapy may be used to shrink the tumor, either in combination with surgery or for people who cannot have surgery.
The following medications may shrink certain types of tumors:
- Bromocriptine or cabergoline are the first-line therapy for tumors that release prolactin. These drugs decrease prolactin levels and shrink the tumor.
- Octreotide or pegvisomant is sometimes used for tumors that release growth hormone, especially when surgery is unlikely to result in a cure.
Source: NIH / MedlinePlus
Key Point 1
Pituitary gland tumors have many varied symptoms and some, in fact, have no symptoms. Even experts often misdiagnose the condition, or it can go undiagnosed altogether. You must pursue a diagnosis if you are experiencing life altering symptoms.
Key Point 2
Pituitary gland tumor treatment is based on the specific type of tumor it is and the symptoms that it is causing. There are many treatment options, and treatment is very successful.