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Pituitary Tumor

Pituitary tumors are abnormal growths of tissues (known as neoplasms) that grow in the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is a small endocrine gland found at the base of your brain.

Sometimes referred to as the “master gland,” the pituitary gland regulates the secretion of many important hormones throughout your body.

Most pituitary tumors are benign (not cancerous); a benign pituitary tumor is a pituitary adenoma. Pituitary tumors are classified based on whether they are secreting any hormones, and if so, which type of hormone.

Pituitary tumor symptoms

If a pituitary tumor is not secreting hormones, it can grow large without being noticed quickly. In this case, the following pituitary tumor symptoms can be caused by the tumor pushing on nearby structures in the brain:

  • Headaches
  • Vision loss or vision changes (blurred or double vision; or loss of peripheral vision)
  • Symptoms of hypogonadism, hypothyroidism or adrenal insufficiency (if the tumor pushes on the pituitary gland, causing decreased secretion of pituitary hormones)

If a pituitary tumor is secreting hormones, symptoms will depend on which hormones it is releasing.

The following are some of the more common hormones and symptoms when they are produced in excess:

Too much prolactin (also called prolactinoma)

Too much adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)

Too much ACTH can cause the adrenal glands to produce excess steroid hormones, such as cortisol. This, in turn, can result in a group of symptoms known as Cushing’s syndrome. When the pituitary gland itself releases too much ACTH, it is known as Cushing’s disease.

Symptoms include the following:

  • 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 or skipping periods)
  • New or increased hair growth
  • High blood pressure and diabetes

Too much growth hormone

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 sleep problems such as snoring and sleep apnea
  • Deepening of the voice
  • Increased sweating, fatigue and weight gain

In children:

  • Rapid growth
  • Tall stature
  • Increased sweating

Too much thyroid-stimulating hormone

  • Weight loss
  • Increased sweating
  • Feeling warm or hot
  • Increased appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Heart racing
  • Tremor of the fingers
  • Diarrhea
  • Changes in menstrual periods (such as missing or skipping periods)

Pituitary tumor recovery

The prognosis for the surgical removal of a pituitary tumor is typically good.

However, any damage done by the tumor prior to removal, such as vision loss, may not be recovered. Similarly, any hormone deficits caused by the tumor compressing hormone-secreting glands cannot be reversed and may require hormone supplements.

How can I get help for a pituitary tumor?

If you have any of the above symptoms, visit your primary care doctor to discuss the changes you’ve experienced. Your primary care doctor may refer you to an endocrinologist, a physician who specializes in diseases related to the glands for further testing.

Care for pituitary tumors at Rush

Specialized care

Because pituitary tumors are not common – and because of the many factors involved in treatment – it is important to see a team who has experience treating these types of tumors. At Rush, treatment for pituitary tumors typically involves a neurosurgeon, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist and endocrinologist. Occasionally, a radiation oncologist may be involved.

Individualized treatment plan

Your treatment will depend on several factors, including the following:

  • The tumor’s size
  • Whether it is making extra hormones, and if so, which ones
  • Whether it is affecting your vision
  • Whether the tumor is cancerous

Treatment options

Depending on the above factors, your treatment may involve one or more of the following:

  • Medications: Drugs may be used to stop the tumor from producing hormones and growing.
  • Surgery: Most pituitary tumors can now be removed through the nose (known as transsphenoidal surgery) without the need for a craniotomy (a surgical procedure in which a portion of your skull is removed to access the brain); a team of neurosurgery and ENT specialists performs this minimally invasive pituitary surgery. This approach allows for quicker recovery without the risks of open surgery.
  • Radiation therapy: This may be used in conjunction with medications and surgery, or by itself. Rush offers stereotactic radiosurgery using the TrueBeam Stx radiosurgery system to treat pituitary tumors. Stereotactic radiosurgery’s pinpoint precision is critical for pituitary tumors that are hard to reach or where the surgical removal of the entire tumor is not possible. 
  • Watchful waiting: This may be used following surgical removal of the tumor; or, it may be used by itself, depending on the size of the tumor and whether it is producing hormones.

Why choose Rush for pituitary tumor care

  • The Rush Center for Skull Base and Pituitary Surgery brings together physicians from more than 10 specialties to provide team-based care for tumors of the skull base, including pituitary tumors.
  • If you need surgery, Rush offers transsphenoidal surgery, in which the pituitary tumor can be removed through the nose rather than through cutting into the skull. This approach allows for less pain and faster recovery.
  • At Rush, endocrinologists are leaders in the field, with endocrinologists dedicated to the care of pituitary tumors and disorders.

Departments and programs that treat this condition