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Pituitary Tumors

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As many as 20 percent of people have pituitary tumors. The majority of these tumors are noncancerous and will never cause symptoms or be diagnosed. However, some people may have tumors that produce more than the normal amount of hormones, which triggers endocrine symptoms. These lesions are called “secreting”. Some pituitary tumors grow large enough to compress the visual apparatus and are often discovered due to visual complaints.

What are pituitary tumors?

Pituitary tumors are abnormal growths on the pituitary gland that occur for unknown reasons. This gland is located at the base of your brain and oversees the release of hormones, which regulate everything from growth to metabolism.

Who develops pituitary tumors?

Pituitary tumors can occur at any age and to anyone, but older adults and people who have a family history of certain hereditary conditions, including multiple endocrine neoplasia, type I (MEN I), have a greater risk of developing them.

What are the symptoms of pituitary tumors?

Symptoms vary, depending on whether a tumor produces too much of a hormone or if symptoms stem from damage or pressure caused by the tumor’s size. Tumors that produce too much of one or more hormones can cause:

  • Cushing’s syndrome, including acne, bone pain, excessive hair growth in women, rounded face and upper body obesity
  • gigantism, including excessive growth, headaches and large hands and feet
  • hyperthyroidism, including concentration problems, fatigue, increased appetite and weight loss
  • nipple discharge

Large pituitary tumors that put pressure on the pituitary gland and surrounding structures may trigger:

  • headaches
  • lethargy
  • nasal drainage
  • nausea and vomiting
  • problems smelling
  • vision problems

How are pituitary tumors diagnosed?

Blood and urine tests, imaging, such as computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and vision exams can all detect a pituitary tumor.

How are pituitary tumors treated?

Your physician will take into account your age, health and the type of tumor, its size and how far it’s grown into the brain. Options include:

  • watchful waiting (for those people who don’t have symptoms, are older or in poor health)
  • surgery (performed either through the scalp or through the nose and sinuses)
  • radiation therapy (including Gamma Knife Radiosurgery) to kill tumor cells
  • drug therapy to shrink, destroy or block the tumor from overproducing hormones

Some people may need to take synthetic hormones following the surgical removal of a tumor.

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