The pituitary is a small gland found inside the skull just below the brain and above the nasal passages, which are above the fleshy back part of the roof of the mouth (known as the soft palate). Pituitary tumors are abnormal growths that develop in your pituitary gland.
Almost all pituitary tumors are benign glandular tumors called pituitary adenomas. These tumors are called benign because they don’t spread to other parts of the body, as cancers can. Still, even benign pituitary tumors can cause major health problems because they are close to the brain, may invade nearby tissues (like the skull or the sinuses), and because many of them make excess hormones.
Pituitary cancers (called pituitary carcinomas) are very rare.
Not all pituitary tumors cause symptoms. Those that do are divided into two types – those related to the hormones they produce, and those related to the pressure they put on the gland and nearby structures.
Symptoms related to pressure include:
Symptoms related to hormonal deficiency include:
Symptoms related to the overproduction of hormones depend on the type of hormone that is being secreted.
Many pituitary tumors don’t require treatment. Treatment for those that do depends on the type of tumor, its size, and how far it has grown into the brain, as well as the age and overall health of the patient.
Medicines may be the first line of treatment, depending on what type of tumor you have and what type of hormone it may produce.
Surgical removal of a pituitary tumor is usually necessary if the tumor is pressing on the optic nerves, or if the tumor is overproducing certain hormones. To perform the surgery, your surgeon may go in through the nose, an opening made above the upper lip, or an opening made in the skull. Typically, doctors go through the skull for larger tumors or ones that have spread in a complex way.
Radiation therapy destroys the tumor with high-energy X-rays. It’s helpful when surgery can’t remove the whole tumor, or if the tumor returns and medicine doesn’t improve your symptoms.