Pituitary Tumors Pituitary Tumors

Pituitary Tumors

A tumor is an abnormal group of cells.

A pituitary tumor, therefore, is an abnormal group of cells that grows in your pituitary gland. Nearly always benign — meaning not cancerous, and unlikely to spread to other organs — tumors in this gland can present problems in two ways. It can influence your body’s production of certain hormones; this is known as a functional pituitary tumor. Or, it may be a non-functional pituitary tumor, not making enough of any particular hormone to cause a hormonal problem, but growing too large and putting pressure on the parts of the body around it.

Sometimes these tumors are so small that their presence is undiagnosed. In fact, a pituitary tumor is often only found by chance, during tests for other conditions. According to the American Cancer Society, about 10,000 are diagnosed in the United States every year.

Symptoms

The pituitary gland affects the hormones that control your growth, metabolism, fat build-up, ovulation, milk production and childbirth contractions, testosterone and sperm production and kidney function.

If the tumor is non-functional— not producing or stopping hormone growth — but still large enough to affect either the gland itself or other areas, from pressure, you may experience:

  • Headaches
  • Some vision loss
  • Loss of body hair
  • Decrease in sex hormones (fewer or no periods in women, less facial hair in men, for example) and sex drive
  • In children, slower growth and development

If the tumor is functional, your symptoms will depend on which hormone production is affected.

If the thyroid hormones are affected — those that control your metabolism — you may experience unexplained weight loss, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, nervousness, and excessive sweating.

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Causes

The cause of pituitary tumors is unknown, although the condition is mostly seen in older adults. A small percentage of cases can be attributed to family history; a genetic component is being further explored.

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Living Better

Once you’ve been diagnosed with a pituitary tumor, your physician will probably need to monitor your symptoms on a scheduled basis. It’s important to follow any medicine regimens that may have been put into place, for they will help regulate any affected hormones. Your hormone levels will be periodically checked, as well as general pituitary function.

If you’ve had surgery or radiation, there will be certain protocols that you will probably follow for the rest of your life, to make sure that the tumor is either fully gone or controlled. Your vision will probably be checked as well, to make sure that your optic nerve is fully functional.

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Exams and Tests

Often asymptomatic and therefore undiagnosed, these tumors are sometimes found during tests for other conditions.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with a pituitary tumor, your physician at St. Luke’s will do a thorough physical examination and ask you about any changes you may have noticed in your body. A family history will be taken as well.

Blood and urine tests can show the under- or over-production of certain hormones. Brain imaging — a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan — might be given to determine if a tumor is present and find out its size.

Vision testing will be performed, especially if you are reporting impaired direct sight or peripheral vision. A neurological exam, checking your coordination, reflexes, and muscle function may also be administered.

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Treatment

The treatment recommended by your physicians at St. Luke’s will depend on your age and overall health, the size of the pituitary tumor, its type, and how far it is impinging on parts of your brain. If your symptoms are not problematic, your doctor may prefer to wait and simply monitor the condition.

Medicine may block or correct excess hormone production; some medicines can shrink certain tumors.

If your tumor is pressing on your optic nerves, or causing an overproduction of certain hormones, surgery may be the best solution. At St. Luke’s, if the tumor is small enough, surgery can be performed as an endoscopic procedure.

Radiation therapy may be used after surgery to kill any remaining tumor cells. If the tumor is removed, hormone replacement therapy may be needed in order for you to maintain normal levels of whichever hormone has been affected.

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