The pituitary gland produces hormones that control many other glands and organs in the body. A pituitary tumor is an abnormal growth on the pituitary gland, which is attached to the hypothalamus at the base of the brain; due to its location, it is considered a brain tumor.
Nearly all of the time, the tumor is an adenoma (benign glandular tumor), but the slow-growing mass can cause the pituitary gland to secrete either an excess or a deficiency of hormones, which can cause metabolism, growth and fertility problems in the body.
Causes and Symptoms of a Pituitary Tumor
Nearly all pituitary tumors are spontaneous occurrences. One exception is the rare inherited condition called Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia type 1 (MEN 1) that does involve pituitary tumors.
Pituitary tumors symptoms (many tumors do not present any symptoms) generally are either related to the secretion of hormones or to the effect of the mass.
Mass effect symptoms:
visual problems such as bitemporal hemianopsia (visual loss in the temporal, or peripheral, field) caused by the tumor pressing on the optic nerve
Pituitary adenoma symptoms caused by hormonal abnormalities:
Amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycle in a female from excess secretion of prolactin)
Acromegaly caused by excess growth hormones in adults causing enlarged hands, head, feet and other organs
Cushing’s disease from an excess of cortisol
galactorrhea (milky drainage of breasts from excess secretion of prolactin)
Gigantism (in children) from excess growth hormones
Pituitary apoplexy (bleeding or swelling in the tumor) can cause sudden headaches, visual loss and trouble with movement of the eyes or eyelids (due to compression of nerves in the cavernous sinus), lethargy or even death.
How Is a Pituitary Tumor Diagnosed?
If a pituitary adenoma is suspected, the following procedures will be used to identify the tumor.
MRI of the brain that focuses on the pituitary
blood tests to examine hormone levels
Treatments for a Pituitary Tumor
Many pituitary tumors do not need treatment, instead observation through continued MRI imaging and follow-up visits may be recommended.
If the pituitary tumor effects pituitary hormone secretion, either hormone replacement or hormone suppression therapies may be needed.
Patients with pituitary apoplexy often require immediate hospitalization and emergency surgery to remove the tumor along with additional hormone therapy.
Expert Surgery for Pituitary Tumors
For non-secreting macroadenomas (tumors larger than 1 cm), surgery is usually the primary treatment. Surgery is also usually recommended for pituitary tumors that cause acromegaly and Cushing’s disease.
At NSPC centers in Long Island, minimally invasive surgery techniques are generally the first-line of treatment. If surgery does not completely remove the tumor (or if a transsphenoidal surgery or craniotomy is not a good choice for the patient), then radiation is the next form of treatment.
Transsphenoidal Surgery for Pituitary Tumor This minimally invasive procedure involves an incision either through the upper gum or inside the nostril to reach the open space behind the nose called the sphenoid sinus. Our expert neurosurgeons use either a surgical microscope or an endoscope (tiny camera) to view the internal parts.
In rare instances, a standard frontal craniotomy (surgical opening of the skull) may be required to remove a pituitary tumor.
Stereotactic Radiosurgery for Pituitary Tumor
With stereotactic radiosurgery, the adenoma is targeted with highly precise radiation beams. Depending on the tumor size and its location either a Gamma Knife®, CyberKnife® or Novalis TX™ linear accelerator device may be used.
Our top board-certified neurosurgeons have successfully treated hundreds of patients with pituitary tumors. Talk with one of our knowledgeable specialists to find out what the best pituitary tumor treatment option is for you. Our premier medical centers provide world-class medical care in the Long Island and New York areas.