Rush offers team-based care for pituitary tumors, including transsphenoidal surgery to remove tumors with less pain and faster recovery.
Pituitary tumors are abnormal growths of tissues (known as neoplasms) that grow in the pituitary gland and are usually benign (not cancerous). The pituitary gland – sometimes called the “master gland” – is a small endocrine gland at the base of the brain that regulates the secretion of many important hormones throughout the body.
While pituitary tumors are not common, they are curable. However, some side effects and symptoms — such as vision loss — may not be treatable.
Signs You Have a Pituitary Tumor
Most pituitary tumors are benign (not cancerous) and called pituitary adenomas. Pituitary tumors are classified by whether they secrete hormones, and, if so, which type of hormone.
Pituitary tumors that do not secrete hormones can grow large without being noticed. They may push on nearby structures in the brain and cause the following symptoms:
- Vision loss or vision changes (blurred or double vision, loss of peripheral vision)
- Fatigue, low energy, depression, weight gain, constipation, feeling cold, muscle aches, dry skin, breaking hair — all are symptoms of hypogonadism, hypothyroidism or adrenal insufficiency caused by the tumor pushing on the pituitary gland and decreasing secretion of pituitary hormones
If a pituitary tumor is secreting hormones, symptoms will depend on which hormones it releases.
If too much prolactin is released, symptoms include the following:
- Irregular menstrual periods and infertility
- Milky discharge from the breasts
- Erectile dysfunction
- Decreased sex drive
Too much adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) can cause excess steroid hormones and symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome:
- Abdominal obesity
- Rounding and redness of the face
- Muscle weakness
- Bruising easily
- Stretch marks on the abdomen
- Anxiety or depression
- Changes in menstrual periods, such as missing periods
- New or increased hair growth
- High blood pressure
Too much growth hormone may cause the following symptoms in adults:
- Enlargement of the hands, feet, nose, lips and ears
- Growth of bones in the face, particularly protruding brow or lower jaw
- Thickening of the tongue, which can cause snoring, sleep apnea or other sleep problems
- Deepening of the voice
- Increased sweating, fatigue and weight gain
And the following symptoms in children:
- Rapid growth
- Tall stature
- Increased sweating
Too much thyroid-stimulating hormone may cause the following:
- Weight loss
- Increased sweating
- Feeling warm or hot
- Increased appetite
- Heart racing
- Tremor of the fingers
- Changes in menstrual periods
Pituitary Tumor Treatment at Rush
If you have any of these symptoms, visit your primary care provider to discuss the changes you’ve experienced. Your provider may refer you to an endocrinologist for further testing.
Treatment may include medication, surgery, radiation or watchful waiting. It depends on the tumor’s size and whether it is cancerous, affecting your vision or making extra hormones.
- Medications: Drugs may be used to stop the tumor from growing and producing hormones.
- Surgery: Most pituitary tumors can be removed through the nose in a procedure called transsphenoidal surgery. As an alternative to a craniotomy, which requires removing a portion of your skull to access the brain, this minimally invasive surgery allows for decreased risks and quicker recovery.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation may be used in conjunction with medications and surgery or by itself. Rush offers stereotactic radiosurgery using the TrueBeam Stx radiosurgery system, which features pinpoint precision for tumors that are hard to reach or where surgical removal of the entire tumor is not possible.
- Hormone supplements: Hormone deficits caused by the tumor cannot be reversed and may require you to take hormone supplements.
- Watchful waiting: Depending on the size of the tumor and whether it is producing hormones, your provider may recommend simply monitoring the tumor (commonly referred to as watchful waiting).
Rush Excellence in Pituitary Tumor Care
- Specialized care: If you have a complex pituitary tumor, you can get help from our skull base and pituitary tumor specialists. Our team specializes in pituitary tumors and brings together the expertise of neurosurgeons, endocrinologists, ENT specialists and others to develop a care plan that addresses your symptoms and needs.
- Transsphenoidal surgery for less pain, faster recovery: If you need surgery, Rush specialize in this minimally invasive option to remove the tumor through the nose, rather than cutting into the skull. This approach allows you to have a faster recovery and fewer functional and aesthetic side effects than traditional open surgery.
- Nationally ranked care: The neurology and neurosurgery, ENT, endocrinology and cancer programs at Rush University Medical Center, which all specialize in pituitary tumors, are ranked among the best in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report.