What are Pituitary Tumors?

November 12, 2012

What are Pituitary Tumors?

Did you know that about a fifth of the population unknowingly has a pituitary tumor? The pituitary gland is in the brain and helps to regulate many of the body’s hormones.

The pituitary gland is a small, endocrine gland that sits in the brain at its base. The main job of this gland is to release hormones including growth hormone, thyroid-stimulation hormone, prolactin, and adrenocorticotropic hormone. These hormones work by directly affecting a targeted area of the body such as sexual organs, bones, and body tissues. Because most of the pituitary tumors present in the population are benign, many people never realize that there is anything wrong. It will only be as the tumor grows that problems may begin to present themselves.

Causes of a Tumor

Like many tumors and other forms of cancer, researchers are not quite sure what causes the formation of a pituitary tumor. Because of its location in the brain, it is difficult to tell what may be causing the tumors to form. A small percentage of the tumors have been shown to have a hereditary link between families. An example of one of these hereditary disorders is known as multiple endocrine neoplasia 1. While the genetic link is not definite, many scientists believe that genetic alterations play an extremely important role in the development of benign and malignant tumors. Most of them are noncancerous which means they are not a health issue for a person unless they continue to grow out of control. The size of the tumor can lead to excess pressure and damage of the pituitary which will in turn cause a multitude of problems for the patient.

Pituitary Tumor Symptoms

Because the pituitary gland is responsible for the release of many stimulating hormones, a pituitary tumor can result in the over production or under production of one of these hormones. The increase/decrease in certain hormones can cause:

  • Cushing syndrome

  • Abnormal nipple discharge

  • Acromegaly

  • Hyperthyroidism

  • Growth hormone deficiency

  • As the tumor grows, the increased size can lead to much more noticeable symptoms including:

  • Vomiting and nausea

  • Vision problems

  • Excessive nasal drainage

  • Lethargy

  • Uncommon headaches

The presence of one or more of these signs can indicate a number of conditions. It is important to never self diagnose and to visit a doctor especially if the symptoms occur suddenly without resolution.

Diagnosing and Treatment

Diagnosing the presence of a pituitary tumor takes a multitude of tests in order to ensure that problems are coming from the gland and not from another type of disorder. A physical examination will be performed and vision problems will be checked. Doctors will normally look for the loss of a person’s peripheral vision, the presence of double vision, and possible blind spots. In addition to the physical aspects, blood tests will be performed that check endocrine function which will help to monitor the presence or absence of certain hormones. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can also locate large tumors.

Unless the tumor is cancerous, there is no need for a person to worry about tumors appearing in other parts of the body. Because a benign tumor can still continue to grow in size, pressure can be placed on the different blood vessels and nerves in the brain. This pressure can lead to damage and often requires surgery for complete removal of the pituitary tumor. It can either be removed through transcranial surgery or through the sinuses and nose. Shrinking techniques are available in order to help with surgery or to help patients who are not capable of having surgery. Shrinking can be done through radiation or through the use of medications such as Octreotide and Bromocriptine.

Category: Articles