Should I Worry About Pituitary Tumors?

A pituitary tumor is often not cancerous — but can still cause problems.

Hormones are chemicals that act like mail carriers. They deliver signals that your body should grow in height, change the amount of sodium in your urine, or even produce breast milk.

All of these messages are coordinated by one, pea-sized spot in your brain: the pituitary gland.

"The pituitary gland is the postmaster general of the endocrine system," says Brian W. Kim, MD, a RUSH endocrinologist. "It keeps the rest of the organs and glands in the endocrine system in check. The pituitary gland is important to healthy development."

Tumor trouble

However, tumors on the pituitary gland are quite common, says Bobby Tajudeen, MD, a RUSH head and neck surgeon. And when a patient consults him about one, he's often able to give this good news: "Most pituitary tumors are not cancerous — and often don't require surgery."

Still, doctors monitor pituitary tumors because they can cause problems. For example, they can press against the optic nerve and disrupt vision, or they can trigger a hormone imbalance.

In many cases, medications can shrink the tumor and bring hormones back into balance or even cause the tumor to go away.

One tumor, many concerns

When you have a pituitary tumor, you work with many different specialists. The skull base and pituitary care program at RUSH includes a team of endocrinologistsneurosurgeons, and ear, nose and throat surgeons.

"The endocrinologists take care of regulating the hormones. And the neurosurgeons and ear, nose and throat surgeons collaborate to safely remove the tumor when surgery is needed,” Tajudeen says. “This multidisciplinary approach to pituitary tumors translates to better care for the patient.”

All about hormones

Learn more about the hormones released by the pituitary gland:

1. Adrenocorticotropic hormoneSignals the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones — including cortisol, which helps maintain blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
2. Follicle-stimulating hormoneAffects men's testes and women's ovaries, promoting sperm production in men and stimulating the ovaries to produce estrogen and develop eggs in women.
3. Luteinizing hormoneHelps with the secretion of progesterone in women and testosterone in men.
4. Thyroid-stimulating hormoneStimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism and growth.
5. Growth hormoneStimulates growth in kids and helps adults maintain bone and muscle mass.
6. ProlactinStimulates breasts to grow at puberty and milk to flow after childbirth.
7. Antidiuretic hormone (also known as vasopressin)Regulates water and sodium balance by reducing the amount of water excreted in urine.
8. OxytocinTriggers milk flow in breastfeeding mothers.

Related Stories