Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
 

Pituitary Tumors

Cancer Types - Pituitary Tumors

What are pituitary tumors?

The pituitary 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). However, because of the location of the pituitary gland, at the base of the skull, many pituitary tumors will press against the optic nerves, causing vision problems. In addition, pituitary tumors that produce excess amounts of hormone will overstimulate other endocrine glands and cause symptoms related to the specific overproduced hormone.

What causes pituitary tumors?

Researchers do not know at this time what causes pituitary tumors. However, research studies show that having a hereditary condition, multiple endocrine neoplasia, type I (MEN 1), increases the risk of developing pituitary tumors, parathyroid tumors, and pancreatic tumors. MEN 1 has been shown to be responsible only a small percentage of all pituitary tumors.

What are the types of pituitary tumors?

Most pituitary tumors are not cancerous. About 7,000 pituitary tumors are diagnosed each year. However, 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. Studies have shown that up to 25 percent of people may have small pituitary tumors without even knowing it.

Pituitary tumors are classified in several ways. One method is classification is by whether the tumor produces a pituitary hormone and the type of hormone produced. Based on this classification, types of pituitary tumors include, but are not limited to, the following:

Cancerous pituitary tumors, or pituitary carcinomas, are rare. They are generally found in older persons, although they can occur at any age. Pituitary carcinomas often make hormones, just as many benign pituitary tumors do. In most cases, the only definitive way to differentiate a cancerous pituitary tumor from a benign one is when the tumor metastasizes (spreads) to another part of the body several years later.

What are symptoms of pituitary tumors?

Symptoms vary depending on what type of tumor is growing and what area of the pituitary gland is affected. Pituitary tumors can lead to symptoms that are caused by an excess or a reduced production of pituitary hormones. Each individual also experiences symptoms differently, and the symptoms many resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How are pituitary tumors diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and medical examination, diagnostic procedures for pituitary tumors may include:

What is the treatment for pituitary tumors?

Specific treatment for pituitary tumors will be determined by your doctor based on:

Treatment may include:

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