The pituitary is a small complicated gland at the base of the brain. It makes several important hormones that regulate growth and the activity of several other major glands throughout the body. A pituitary adenoma is an abnormal growth, or tumor, in this gland. Pituitary adenomas are usually benign. This means they are not cancerous. They do not spread to other parts of the body. They can lead to vision problems because they are near the eyes. A pituitary adenoma can also lead to growth problems. It often can also disrupt the hormonal balance of the thyroid, adrenal, and gonad glands.
The cause is unknown. Some tumors are part of other endocrine disorders and are associated with genetic changes. These can be inherited.
Tumors can also be a result of exposure to cancer-causing substances or radiation. In some cases, the DNA changes may occur for no known reason.
Factors that may increase your chance of pituitary adenoma include:
Symptoms can vary and may not be present at all. It will depend on whether the tumor is secreting hormones and how large it is. The tumor's location at the base of the brain can also cause symptoms.
General symptoms due to size may include:
In addition to the above, symptoms from prolactin-secreting adenoma:
Symptoms from thyrotropin-secreting adenoma:
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism:
Symptoms from corticotropin-secreting adenoma:
Growth hormone-secreting adenoma:
Pituitary adenomas may also be associated with the following conditions:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You will be referred to an endocrinologist. This is a doctor who specializes in glands and hormones.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
Your peripheral vision may be tested. This can be done with visual field tests.
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with an MRI scan.
Treatment depends on the presence and type of hormones being secreted. It is not uncommon for these treatment options to be used in combination. Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you.
Treatment options include:
Surgery is often done to remove the tumor. The rest of the normal pituitary gland may be damaged during surgery. This can be treated with hormone replacement.
Medications can control symptoms and sometimes shrink the tumor. They can block hormone secretion.
For the majority of adenomas, that are prolactin or growth hormone-secreting, medications may include:
Radiation therapy involves the use of radiation to kill tumor cells. The types of radiation therapy used to treat pituitary adenomas include:
American Cancer Society
Hormone Health Network—Endocrine Society
Canadian Cancer Society
Brain Tumor Foundation of Canada
Becker A, Daly AF. The clinical, pathological, and genetic features of familial isolated pituitary adenomas. Eur J Endocrinol 2007;57(4):371-82.
Beshay VE, Beshay JE, Halvorson LM. Pituitary tumors: diagnosis, management, and implications for reproduction. Semin Reprod Med 2007;25(5):388-401.
General information about pituitary tumors. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/pituitary/patient/pituitary-treatment-pdq. Updated January 3, 2014. Accessed February 27, 2014.
NINDS pituitary tumors information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/pituitary_tumors/pituitary_tumors.htm. Updated February 14, 2014. Accessed February 27, 2014.
Pituitary tumors. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003133-pdf.pdf. Accessed February 27, 2014.
Pituitary tumors. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900666/Pituitary-tumors. Updated January 23, 2015. Accessed September 27, 2016.
Last reviewed March 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kim Carmichael, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.