What is a Pituitary Tumor?

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The pituitary gland is a small, pea-sized organ in the brain, behind the back of the nose. Though tiny, its function is large. It is considered the “master gland” because it produces many essential hormones that affect other glands in the body.

Most pituitary tumors are noncancerous (benign), as many do not cause symptoms or affect health. Pituitary tumors often go undiagnosed. Some may be found incidentally during brain imaging studies for another condition. Pituitary tumors are generally grouped into three categories:

  • Benign pituitary adenomas: These are non-cancerous, grow very slowly, and do not spread to other parts of the body.
  • Invasive pituitary adenomas: These are non-cancerous, but may spread to areas adjacent to the pituitary.
  • Pituitary carcinomas: These are rare, malignant (cancerous) tumor that can spread into the brain and spinal cord, or beyond the central nervous system.

What are the symptoms of a Pituitary Tumor, and how is a Pituitary Tumor diagnosed?

If a pituitary tumor is pressing against the optic nerve or other important structures, a variety of symptoms may arise:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Visual changes, such as blurriness, peripheral vision double vision or partial blindness

If a pituitary tumor damages the gland, causing it to decrease making one or more hormones, related symptoms may occur:

  • Headache
  • Body hair changes
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Alterations of menstrual periods in women
  • Slowed growth in children

Some pituitary tumors cause the gland to overproduce hormones, which may cause these disorders:

  • Hyperthyroidism, in which the thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone
  • Cushing syndrome, caused by an excess of the hormone cortisol
  • Acromegaly, a rare condition caused by excessive amounts of growth hormone

If a pituitary tumor is suspected, diagnosis is determined through a health history and physical, possibly an eye exam, neurological examination (of how brain, spinal cord, and nerves are functioning), blood and urine tests for hormone levels, and imaging such as CT and/or MRI.

What are the treatment options for a Pituitary Tumor?

Our Pituitary and Neuroendocrine Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital offers comprehensive, multidisciplinary diagnosis and treatment for all types of pituitary tumors. We will work closely with you and your family to develop a treatment plan suited to your situation. Treatments may include:

  • Surgery to remove the tumor, either through the nose and sinuses (called transsphenoidal) or through a temporary opening in the skull (craniotomy)
  • Radiation therapies to shrink or destroy tumors
  • Medications to shrink certain tumors or to suppress their hormone production

Learn more about Pituitary Tumor Treatment at Brigham and Women’s.

Contact the Pituitary and Neuroendocrine Center

To schedule an appointment with a physician in the Pituitary and Neuroendocrine Center, please contact our Patient Coordinator at: (617) 732-6600. We see new patients with a pituitary tumor diagnosis as soon as the next business day.

If you are a physician seeking to refer a patient to the Pituitary and Neuroendocrine Center, please call 617-732-6679 or you can access our physicians’ office phone numbers. To contact one of our physicians with a question, patient referral or second opinion, you may also email: BWHNeurosurgery@partners.org.

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