What are Pituitary Tumors?
Pituitary tumors are abnormal growths within the pituitary gland, a small gland located near the base of the brain. Pituitary tumors can be either functioning or non-functioning. Functioning tumors secrete pituitary hormones that can lead to a clinical syndrome, while non-functioning tumors are those that can cause a syndrome by not secreting pituitary hormones.
The majority of pituitary tumors are benign growths, also known as pituitary adenomas. These are non-cancerous and do not spread to other parts of your body.
Symptoms of Pituitary Tumors
Tumors of the pituitary gland cause symptoms in the following ways:
- Overproduction of one of the hormones that it produces, which include growth hormones, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), and gonadotropins.
- Growth of the tumor, which compresses the pituitary gland and inhibits the production of one or more of the hormones as mentioned above.
- Growth of the tumor, which compresses the optic nerves or the nerves controlling eye movements resulting in double-vision or vision loss.
Some of the common symptoms include:
- Mood changes
- Vision problems
- Irregular periods in women
- Erectile dysfunction
- Inappropriate production of breast milk
- Acromegaly: the abnormal increase in the size of the bones of the hands, feet, and face
Diagnosis of Pituitary Tumors
When you present to the clinic with the above symptoms, your doctor will review your medical history and perform a thorough physical examination. Blood and urine tests will be ordered to check the hormone levels. Imaging studies such as CT scan or MRI are performed to identify the tumor type, size, and location. Vision testing may also be performed to determine if the tumor is affecting your optic nerves.
Treatment of Pituitary Tumors
Your doctor will determine treatment depending on the size, location, spread of the tumor, age, and overall health. Surgery may be recommended to completely remove isolated tumors or those that have spread, to relieve symptoms or release pressure on surrounding structures. Tumors that have spread are usually treated by radiotherapy or high energy radiation. These treatments may shrink the tumor, making surgical removal easier, and can eradicate any remaining cancer cells after surgical excision. Some pituitary tumors may also be treated with medications to shrink them and to block excess hormone secretion.