What is a pituitary tumor?
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Pituitary tumors are abnormal growths found in or near the pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain. These tumors are among the most common brain tumors and are almost always benign. Their growth can compress nearby cranial nerves, causing blind spots, blurred vision, double vision, or disturbances in the hormone function of the pituitary gland.
Pituitary tumors include:
- Non-functioning adenomas: Benign tumors that arise from the pituitary gland
- Functioning adenomas: Benign tumors that arise from the pituitary gland and secrete excess hormones
- Prolactinomas: adenomas that secrete prolactin and are the most common hormone-producing pituitary tumors. In women, these tumors cause decreased libido, infertility, altered menses, and milk discharge from their breasts. In men, these tumors induce impotence and decreased libido.
- Cushing’s disease: adenomas that secrete adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) or ACTH-secreting adenomas, causing a high level of cortisol, a stress hormone. Patients with Cushing’s disease experience symptoms such as weight gain (especially upper body obesity, a round face, and increased fat behind the neck); easy bruising; purple or pink stretch marks over the abdomen, thighs, buttocks, arms and breasts; and weak bones that are prone to fracture. Women develop excessive hair growth on face, neck, chest, abdomen and thighs, and have irregular menses. Men develop decreased fertility and/or libido. Other signs and symptoms include severe fatigue, weak muscles, high blood pressure, high blood glucose, increased thirst and urination, irritability, anxiety and depression.
- Acromegaly: adenomas that secrete growth hormone (GH) and cause patients to develop coarsening of their facial features, enlargement of the hands and feet, and other symptoms.
- Thyroid stimulating hormone-secreting adenomas (TSH-secreting adenomas) are relatively rare and cause patients to develop rapid heart rate, tremors, unexplained weight loss, increased appetite, anxiety, frequent bowel movements, and a lump in the front of the neck (due to an enlarged thyroid gland).
- Craniopharyngiomas: benign tumors that can affect vision and pituitary function
- Meningiomas: benign tumors that arise from the covering of the brain or dura mater
Although they are not technically tumors, other benign growths can arise in the pituitary, including:
- Rathke’s cleft cyst: a benign cyst that can fill up with protein-rich fluid and can grow
- Other cysts, including arachnoid cysts and colloid cysts
The pituitary gland is a master gland that secretes many hormones that travel throughout the body, such as
- Growth hormone (GH), also called somatotropin, which is responsible for the growth spurt in adolescence as well as bone and soft tissue growth in adults
- Prolactin, which helps to stimulate lactation
- Adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), which stimulates the production of the stress hormone cortisol
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and lutenizing hormone, which are both reproduction-related hormones
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), or thyrotropin, which stimulates the thyroid gland and globally affects body metabolism
- Antidiuretic hormone (ADH, also vasopressin), which regulates the amount of water in your body
- Oxytocin, which is involved in childbirth and lactation and helps with male reproduction.
Why rely on Washington University for treatment of your pituitary tumor?
Our dedicated Washington University Pituitary Center provides a multidisciplinary experience with comprehensive evaluation and treatment for a variety of pituitary disorders and conditions. Washington University neurosurgeons are recognized as regional and national leaders for the treatment of pituitary tumors.
Neurosurgeons and other specialists in the Washington University Pituitary Center provide a full range of treatments, including minimally invasive endoscopic tumor removal, open surgical techniques when needed, medical therapies, and radiation-based therapies, including Gamma knife radiosurgery, proton beam therapy, and fractionated radiation therapy.
The Center also runs several cutting-edge clinical trials to discover new treatments and advance the field. The collaborative surgical team, consisting of neurosurgery and otolaryngology, uses an advanced intraoperative MRI system that provides precise imaging of the tumor and maximizes the extent of safe tumor removal.