Pituitary Tumors

Pituitary tumors are abnormal growths that are found primarily in the anterior pituitary gland (adenohypophysis). At times there tumors found in the posterior pituitary gland (neurohypohsis) but these instances are very rare. The majority of pituitary tumors are benign, which are called adenomas, but there are some malignant tumor that arise, which are called pituitary carcinomas, and are very uncommon. The pituitary gland releases numerous hormones that control all the other glands throughout the body.


Even benign tumors can make the pituitary gland malfunction and secrete too many or not enough hormones which can be harmful to the human body. 70% of these adenomas, or  benign tumors, secrete hormones and are called “functional” and only 30% are not hormone produces and are called “non-functional.”


Pitiuatary tumors only make up about 10% of all intracranial tumors. These types of tumors affect both men and women and are most prevalent in people who are in their 30’s and 40’s.

Typical Pituitary Macroadenoma as visualized on MRI

 Typical Appearance on MRI of a medium sized Pituitary Macroadenoma causing visual loss




Symptoms caused from pituitary tumors result from either a hormone imbalance or pressure from the mass on the surrounding structures. All symptoms vary depending on the size, location, and if the tumor affects too much production of hormones or not enough production.


Symptoms of pituitary tumors include:



Problems with vision

Nausea and vomiting

Unusual weigh loss or gain

Sexual dysfunction


Loss of body hair



There are also a number of other symptoms that are related directly to secretion of too many hormones. These symptoms include:


High blood pressure

Sensitivity to hot or cold

Lapse in menstrual period among women



There are also other symptoms that are very specific to they type of pituitary tumor. One particular symptom is Cushing’s disease in which fat builds up in the face, back and chest, and the arms and legs to become very thin. Others can cause acromegaly, a disorder in which the hands, feet, and face become much bigger than normal. Another, called hyperprolactinemia, can cause women to produce breast milk when they are not pregnant.


Once a full medical examination is complete an MRI taken to get a detailed understanding of the tumor’s size and location. If more imaging is needed it will be in the form of a CT scan which can help in some cases. Visual tests are also conducted to determing if the tumor has evaded into the optic pathways and caused a loss of vision.


There are three different options for treating pituitary tumors. These options include surgical removal of the tumor, radiation therapy (both conventional and gamma knife), and also drug therapy. With surgical removal, the mass is cut away so that it cannot interfere with any of the other structures and the hormone levels can return to normal. If residuals of the tumor are left after surgery then often times the other forms of treatment will be used as well. The ultimate goal of the treatment is to remove the tumor, alleviate pressure on surrounding structures, reverse any symptoms that were caused, bring hormone levels back to their normal level and to prevent any tumors from forming again.


The earlier the detection of the tumor the better chances the patient has of returning to a normal life. In most case pituitary tumors are curable and symptoms can be reversed. If a tumor is not diagnosed early enough it can invade the optic nerves, carotid arteries, and the brain and cause problems. 

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