The pituitary gland, located near the lower part of the brain, is one of the most important glands in the body. It secretes hormones that are responsible for controlling and regulating the smooth functioning of bodily functions.
A cancer is often seen growing within the healthy cells and forms a tumor. The pituitary tumor might be benign and not at risk of metastasizing to other surrounding organs or it may be a malignant form of pituitary tumor that can spread to other parts. However most of the pituitary tumors are benign in form and can often be non-cancerous abnormal growth in the pituitary gland called pituitary adenomas.
Tumors in the pituitary glands are not considered as brain tumors as pituitary gland is an endocrine gland and not a part of the brain. However pituitary tumors are serious risk to the health as they can affect the functioning of the other glands and organs in the body.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Pituitary Tumors?
In certain cases people with smaller-sized pituitary tumors do not experience any visible symptoms. However others may exhibit various symptoms that can be a reason to get a medical opinion and a diagnosis if required.
- Blurred vision
- Loss of peripheral vision
- Impotence caused by hormone disruption
- Inadequate amount of breast milk production
- Cushing’s syndrome
- Unexplained fatigue
- Mood swings
These signs and symptoms, when caused by a pituitary tumor, are a collective result of excessive or inadequate production of hormones mainly by the pituitary glands.
These are the major hormones, when produced in inadequate or excessive amounts by the pituitary glands cause disruption in some vital bodily functions:
Growth hormone – In case of children excessive secretion of growth hormone may result in gigantism which results in unreasonable growth in body height and size. In case of adults increased growth hormone production causes high blood sugar, high blood pressure, heart disease, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and body pain as well as acromegaly, a condition that causes exuberant growth of bones and soft tissues.
TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) – Excessive production of thyroid hormone can cause irritability and nervousness accompanied by high blood pressure and fast heart-rate. It may also cause heart disease, thin skin, constant sweating and weight-loss.
Prolactin – Excessive prolactin in women results in inordinate breast milk secretion, often seen in men as well. It may also cause osteoporosis and weaken the bone. It may also result in decreased libido, infertility, impotence as well as irregularity in the menstrual cycle.
Adrenocorticotropic hormone – Increased amount of this hormone results in weight gain, especially in the torso and is often accompanied by high blood sugar, high blood pressure, brittle bones and emotional changes, including stretch marks and bruising in the skin.
Gonadotropins (LH and FSH) – Increased amount of these hormones can often cause infertility and unpredictable menstrual cycle in women. Men may experience elevated testosterone levels due to excessive amounts of LH.
How are Pituitary Tumors Diagnosed?
Oncologists conduct a variety of diagnostic tests to determine the presence of a pituitary tumor in the gland as well as to check for metastasis.
Imaging tests such as a computerized tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test are also used in diagnosis to determine the extent of the tumor and the cancerous tissue.
How are Pituitary Tumors Treated?
An endocrinologist is a specialist in the treatment of problems related to the glands and the endocrine system. There are a number of treatment options for treating a pituitary tumor and the type of treatment best-suited in your case will be suggested dependent on various factors such as age, medical history and overall health.
These are the various treatment options for pituitary tumors:
Surgical treatment of pituitary gland tumors involves removal of the tumor as well as some of the surrounding healthy tissues to prevent the cancer from recurring. This is the most favored treatment method for pituitary tumors and is performed by an experienced surgical oncologist.
Almost all of the surgeries for removal of pituitary tumors are performed by a minimally invasive method called a transsphenoidal route. This requires performing the surgery through the nasal passage (nostrils). A thin and flexible surgical tube called an endoscope is used to perform this surgery.
Rarely does a craniotomy is required for removal of pituitary tumors. Craniotomy involves removing a piece of the skull bone to gain access to the pituitary gland.
This therapy involves using high-energy beams of x-rays, or others, to destroy the tumor. An experienced radiation oncologist can perform a successful radiation therapy treatment to remove pituitary tumors.
There are various methods for performing a radiation therapy. The external beam radiation therapy is the most common type of method used in radiation therapy which uses a device placed outside the body to focus the radiation beams. Radiation therapy will include a fixed regimen of numerous sessions over a period of time.
Stereotactic radiation therapy delivers high amounts of radiation which is focused directly on the tumor. This is a useful therapy in removing the remaining cancerous cells after a surgery has been performed to remove a large-sized pituitary tumor.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
This treatment is required for patients whose hormone production has been affected due to the pituitary gland tumor or its treatment using other methods. This therapy includes replacing the deficient hormones such as the adrenal hormones, thyroid stimulating hormone, growth hormone as well as testosterone and estrogen.
Most pituitary gland tumors are found to be benign in appearance and may not affect your bodily functions however certain pituitary tumors can often result in being fatal if left untreated. It is highly advised to seek and consult an experienced oncologist/endocrinologist to determine the presence of a life-threatening pituitary gland tumor.