The pituitary tumor gland is a small, pea-sized organ in the brain behind the back of the nose. The pituitary gland produces hormones that affect many other glands in the body. Most pituitary tumors are noncancerous (benign). In addition, because many pituitary tumors do not cause symptoms or affect health, they are either not diagnosed or are found incidentally during routine brain imaging studies. However, because of the location of the pituitary gland, at the base of the skull, many pituitary tumors press against the optic nerves, in some cases causing serious vision problems. Pituitary tumor symptoms vary depending on what type of tumor is growing and what area of the pituitary gland is affected.
Some pituitary tumors that produce excess amounts of hormone overstimulate other endocrine glands. Pituitary tumor symptoms may then occur related to the specific overproduced hormone, causing disorders such as:
hyperthyroidism, in which the thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone
Cushing syndrome, caused by an excess of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland
gigantism or acromegaly, caused by excessive amounts of growth hormone produced by the pituitary gland itself
Pituitary tumor symptoms also may occur if a large pituitary tumor presses on important nerves and blood vessels in the brain. These symptoms may include:
nausea and vomiting
problems with the sense of smell
visual changes, including double vision or partial blindness
Pituitary tumor treatment depends on the extent of the condition and the patient's age, overall health, tolerance for medications, and personal preferences. Treatment options include:
Surgery: removing the tumor may be necessary if the patient's pituitary tumor symptoms are severe; the tumors can usually be removed through the nose and sinuses, but some may need to be removed through the skull
External beam therapy: this type of radiation therapy sends high levels of radiation directly to the cancer cells in order to kill or shrink tumors
Stereotactic radiosurgery: this treatment directs a single high dose of radiation into the cancerous tissue with very narrow beams of radiation
Medications: some medications may shrink certain tumors while others can be used to suppress the tumor's hormone-producing function and thereby reduce pituitary tumor symptoms
The Pituitary/Neuroendocrine Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital offers state-of-the-art treatment for patients with pituitary tumor symptoms.
Brigham and Women's Hospital: comprehensive treatment of pituitary tumor symptoms
The Pituitary/Neuroendocrine Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital is a multi-disciplinary clinic in Boston consisting of neurosurgery and neuroendocrinology that evaluates and treats patients with pituitary tumors and other pituitary abnormalities. These specialists work together to evaluate and provide the most effective treatment for pituitary tumor symptoms. The program is part of our Neuroendocrinology Division, which has been providing new approaches to treating patients with pituitary tumors and neuroendocrine complications of brain cancer treatment. For example, new medications that regulate hormone production while maintaining pituitary function may be an option for some patients.
For patients seeking surgical treatment for pituitary tumor symptoms, our expert Boston neurosurgeons in the Department of Neurosurgery deliver state-of-the-art treatment and care via many advanced techniques to improve outcomes for our patients. Our neurosurgery specialists also provide expert skull base surgery to treat a wide variety of cranial disorders.