Pituitary Tumor

A small, pea-sized gland, the pituitary is connected to the hypothalamus (at base of the brain) by a narrow stalk of blood vessels and nerves. The pituitary controls a series of hormones that regulate a variety of functions—including the body’s growth, metabolism, sex organs and response to stress. It interacts with the thyroid and adrenal glands, as well as the ovaries or testes.

A tumor anywhere in the body is simply an abnormal growth of cells. The majority of pituitary tumors are benign (not cancerous), slow-growing and do not spread to other parts of the body. However, problems may arise when they cause the gland to produce too many hormones or when they grow too large and begin to interfere with normal functions.

Pituitary tumors may be functioning (those that make hormones) or non-functioning (those that do not make hormones). Symptoms caused by non-functioning tumors are directly related to their size. Patients may experience headaches, vision problems, nausea, and vomiting.

Issues with functioning tumors depend on the hormone affected. Cushing’s disease is a hormonal abnormality in which fat builds up in the face, back and chest, while the arms and legs become very thin. Acromegaly is a condition in which the hands, feet, and face are larger than normal.

Pituitary hormones that impact the sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, may cause a woman produce breast milk even though she is not pregnant or nursing, or may cause a loss of sex drive or a lower sperm count in men.

Because their symptoms are similar to other, more common diseases, pituitary tumors can often go undiagnosed.

TREATMENT

Treatment will depend on the type and size of the tumor, and whether it has impacted surrounding structures, such as the brain and visual pathways. The patient’s age and overall health are also considered in treatment.

Treatment will depend on the type and size of the tumor, and whether it has impacted surrounding structures, such as the brain and visual pathways. The patient’s age and overall health are also considered in treatment.

PROGNOSIS

As with most diseases, early diagnosis and treatment are key to a good prognosis. If diagnosis is delayed, however, even non-functioning tumors can grow large enough to press on optic nerves, the brain, or the carotid arteries (the vessels that bring blood to the brain), causing significant health risks.

Pituitary Tumor