Pituitary Tumor Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Most pituitary tumors are benign (not cancerous). However, because the pituitary gland is located at the base of the skull, pituitary tumors will often press against the optic nerves and cause vision problems.

What is a Pituitary Tumor?

Pituitary tumors form in the pituitary gland, which produces hormones that play a part in a variety of bodily functions. Pituitary tumors are generally grouped into three categories:

  • Benign pituitary adenomas – These tumors are not cancerous, grow very slowly, and do not spread to other parts of the body.
  • Invasive pituitary adenomas – These tumors are not cancerous, but may spread to the skull or the sinus cavity.
  • Pituitary carcinomas – These rare, malignant (cancerous) tumors can spread into the brain and spinal cord, or beyond the central nervous system.

Pituitary Symptoms

General symptoms for any type of pituitary tumor:

  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Runny nose

When a tumor damages the pituitary gland, causing it to stop making one or more hormones, one or more of the following symptoms may occur:

  • Headache
  • Vision loss
  • Body hair loss
  • Lower sex drive
  • Women: no breast milk production and less frequent or no menstrual periods
  • Men: impotence, loss of facial hair, and growth of breast tissue
  • Children: slowed growth and sexual development

If the pituitary gland continues to function, the tumor may cause the gland to overproduce hormones. Symptoms will depend on which hormone is being overproduced.

Pituitary Tumor Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Doctors and other caregivers at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center will work closely with you and your family to develop a treatment plan suited to your situation. As well as providing specialized medical care, we offer a range of supportive services, including nutritional counseling, emotional and spiritual support, financial advice, and complementary therapies, such as acupuncture and massage.

Our Pituitary Program neurosurgeons use advanced technologies to remove as much of the tumor as possible while preserving the surrounding brain tissue. These techniques include a revolutionary open-style MRI scanner that allows the neurosurgeon to see MRI images in real time during surgery. This intra-operative MRI can help the neurosurgeon remove the tumor more precisely, reducing the risk of damage to other parts of the brain. Other surgical technologies include the use of 3-D navigation systems that allow us to precisely locate deep-seated or small brain tumors; monitor speech, motor or visual functions during surgery; and observe delicate cranial nerve functions.

Surgery is typically an effective treatment for pituitary tumors. One of the following procedures may be used to remove a pituitary tumor:

  • Transsphenoidal surgery – Surgical instruments are inserted through an incision under the upper lip or at the bottom of the nose, and then through the sphenoid bone (at the base of the skull), to reach the pituitary gland.
  • Endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery – An endoscope is inserted through an incision at the back of the nose, and then through the sphenoid bone, to reach the pituitary gland.
  • Craniotomy – The tumor is removed through an opening in the skull.

Cancer Care at Brigham and Women's Hospital

Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center is devoted to helping people fight cancer by offering the most advanced treatment with compassion and care. We care for adult patients in 12 specialized centers, each devoted to a different type of cancer.

Part of our commitment to conquering cancer is developing new ways to prevent and screen for cancer, as well as developing new therapies. Milestones include:

  • Development of the CA 125 test, the first and only biomarker for ovarian cancer;
  • Pioneered new approaches in the assessment and treatment of prostate cancer;
  • Development of state-of-the-art surgical techniques for brain surgery.

The Center for Neuro-Oncology features a multidisciplinary team of specialists, including radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, surgeons, physicists, radiologists, interventional radiologists, endoscopists, pathologists, specialized nursing staff, dietitians, physical therapists, and social workers who use a patient-focused approach to deliver the most effective treatment for each patient. Meet our neuro-oncology team.

Helpful Links for Patient Education and Support


If you have any questions regarding the BWH Pituitary Program or to schedule an appointment, please contact:

Brigham and Women's Hospital
Pituitary/Neuroendocrine Center
Attn: Caroline Repetti
60 Fenwood Road
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: (617) 525-8371
Fax: (617) 713-3050

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