Pituitary tumors are abnormal growths that develop in the pituitary gland, near the brain and nasal passages.
When a pituitary tumor is present, a patient may experience vision impairment, intense headaches and changes in hormone levels. In many cases, these tumors don’t show any signs or symptoms at all.
Approximately 10,000 pituitary tumors are diagnosed each year in the United States (American Cancer Society) and almost all of them are benign tumors, called adenomas. Cancerous pituitary tumors are rare.
Because adenomas often go unnoticed and don’t create any symptoms, the American Cancer Society estimates that one in four people may have a pituitary adenoma without realizing.
What is the survival rate for pituitary tumors?
Pituitary tumors have a high survival rate of 97%. Survival rate depends on a number of factors, including the location and size of the tumor, as well as the patient’s age and overall health.
Pituitary tumors can become dangerous if they grow large enough to press against the optic nerves, or if they produce more hormones and cause other glands to increase hormone production (Johns Hopkins Medicine.)
Surgery is the most common treatment option used to remove a pituitary tumor. For patients who require surgery to restore their quality of life, Dr. Vladimir Neychev is our fellowship-trained endocrine surgeon who has extensive experience in general surgery and advanced minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery techniques and methods.
Dr. Neychev is fellowship-trained at the National Cancer Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health!)
The Role of the Pituitary Gland
To understand the nature of pituitary tumors, it’s important that we understand the role of the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland (often called the ‘master gland’) is responsible for controlling and regulating a number of critical bodily processes. These processes include metabolism function, growth and development processes, hormone production, blood pressure regulation, adrenal gland function, reproduction and more.
Pituitary Gland Hormones
- Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH)
- Growth Hormone (GH)
- Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH)
- Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
- Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
These hormones are responsible for fundamental processes in the body.
The pituitary gland can sense different needs throughout the body and automatically trigger a reaction to regulate dysfunction.
When the pituitary is not functioning properly, this can lead to a number of problems. ‘Hypopituitarism’ describes an underactive pituitary gland (or a lack of pituitary hormones) and ‘hyperpituitarism’ describes an overactive pituitary gland (or an excess of pituitary hormones.) Both of these conditions can be the result of a pituitary tumor.
Different Types of Pituitary Tumors
There are different types of pituitary tumors, including non-functioning or nonfunctional adenomas, functional adenomas and pituitary carcinoma (cancer.)
- Non-functioning adenoma is a benign tumor that does not produce excess hormones.
- Functional adenoma is a benign tumor that produces one or more hormones into the bloodstream.
- Pituitary carcinoma is a cancerous pituitary tumor.
Causes and Risk Factors of a Pituitary Gland Tumor
There are very few known risk factors for pituitary tumor growth, and most are due to genetics.
Genetic risk factors include having familial acromegaly (rare genetic condition that causes abnormal cells to grow in the pituitary gland;) carney complex (rare genetic condition characterized by abnormal pigmentation on the body;) and multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN 1) (rare disorder that causes abnormal growth in the endocrine system.)
While there is no evidence that environmental factors play a role in pituitary tumor growth, there is evidence to suggest that chronic and severe stress, childhood trauma and/or physical trauma may increase a person’s risk of developing a pituitary tumor.
The European Society of Endocrinology states that traumatic situations “may interfere with epigenetic processes which silence tumor suppressor genes and promote the development of pituitary adenomas.”
Signs and Symptoms of Pituitary Tumors
Specific signs and symptoms of pituitary tumors depend on the size of the tumor, the location and the type of hormones produced.
Common signs and symptoms of pituitary tumors include:
- Vision loss, including problems with peripheral vision or double vision
- Abnormal weight loss
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Hormonal deficiencies
- Feeling cold
- Fewer menstrual periods or irregular periods
- Low libido (loss of sex drive)
- Growth and development delays
- Brittle bones
- Bone loss or loss of bone strength
Headaches and vision loss are often the result of a pituitary tumor pressing on the optic nerve, which is responsible for sending signals from the eyes to the brain in order for the brain to process images.
Many of the symptoms related to weight loss, weight gain, growth delays and fewer menstrual periods in women are generally caused by hormonal imbalances or hormonal dysfunction.
Diagnosis of Pituitary Tumors
Patients who visit UCF Health for a diagnosis may see one of our experienced endocrinologists in Orlando, Dr. Amita Kathuria or Dr. Ali Rizvi.
Your endocrinologist will assess for physical signs of a pituitary tumor, discuss your symptoms and review your family health history. Your doctor may then order various tests and/or scans, including any of the following:
- Blood tests
- Urine sample
- MRI scan
- CT scan
- Vision test
If blood test results reveal significantly elevated growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) this indicates a pituitary tumor. MRI scans and CT scans can also reveal pituitary growths and enable the endocrinologist to determine the exact size and location of the tumor.
Pituitary tumors do not always produce symptoms, so indicators of these growths are often found when running tests for other health conditions.
Treatment of Pituitary Tumors
Patients who are diagnosed with a pituitary tumor may undergo endocrine surgery, radiation therapy and medications to remove the tumor. The best treatment route will depend on a number of factors, including the size of the tumor, type of tumor, location, how progressed the growth is as well as the patient’s age and overall health.
In most cases, pituitary tumors are treatable. It’s important to diagnose and treat the tumor early to prevent further damage to the optic nerve or surrounding nerves. Pituitary tumors that continue to grow can lead to serious health complications, including complete loss of vision.
If you are diagnosed with a pituitary tumor at UCF Health and surgery proves to be the best treatment route, your endocrinologist will collaborate with our fellowship-trained endocrine surgeon, Dr. Vladimir Neychev, to coordinate surgery.
Surgery is the most common treatment route to remove smaller pituitary tumors. Depending on the size and location of the tumor, the surgery technique may be transsphenoidal surgery or a craniotomy. Transsphenoidal surgery is performed through the sinus and a craniotomy is performed through the front of the skull.
Oftentimes, a successful surgery will immediately restore proper pituitary function.
Pituitary tumors that cannot be removed surgically (due to size or location) can sometimes be treated with radiation therapy. Radiation therapy may also be used in combination with surgery to shrink the tumor before surgery and make the growth more accessible.
With radiation therapy, high energy x-rays or particle waves are delivered to the skull to kill tumor cells by damaging their DNA.
Medications may be prescribed to shrink the pituitary tumor. In some cases, medication is the only treatment needed. Common types of medications for pituitary tumors are called dopamine agonists, namely Cabergoline (Dostinex) and bromocriptine (Parlodel.)
Schedule an Appointment with a Leading Endocrinologist
We are proud to have some of the most experienced doctors in endocrinology in the Orlando area!
Our doctors (Dr. Amita Kathuria and Dr. Ali Rizvi) and surgeon (Dr. Vladimir Neychev) who specialize in the treatment of endocrine disorders, are here to help you make the best decision for your health and quality of life. We will help you weigh your treatment options and choose the right treatment.
Your doctor will create a treatment plan that aims to shrink or remove the pituitary adenoma, help you regulate your hormones, manage existing conditions and treat your symptoms.
At UCF Health, we take a comprehensive approach to treatment to ensure you can access the care you deserve. Our physicians will collaborate with each other to create a truly comprehensive treatment plan that improves your quality of life.
“Medicines to Treat Pituitary Tumors.” American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pituitary-tumors/treating/medicines.html.
“Surgery for Pituitary Tumors.” American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pituitary-tumors/treating/surgery.html.
“Tests for Pituitary Tumors.” American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pituitary-tumors/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html.
“Pituitary Tumors.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, 8 Aug. 2021, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/pituitary-tumors.
“Key Statistics about Pituitary Tumors.” American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pituitary-tumors/about/key-statistics.html.