The pituitary gland is a very small gland - about the size of a bean - located behind the nose. Despite its small size, it plays a vital role in hormone production and in regulating hormone production in other glands. Pituitary tumors are abnormal growths of cells in the pituitary gland tissues. There are three primary types of pituitary tumors:
Pituitary tumors may be functioning or nonfunctioning. Functioning tumors are those that cause the gland to produce more hormones than normal, and they’re more common than non-functioning tumors, which don’t affect hormone production. The excess hormones produced by functioning tumors can cause specific symptoms to develop based on what the hormone “does” in the body.
Both functioning and nonfunctioning pituitary tumors can cause symptoms like:
Functional tumors can cause additional symptoms based on the hormones they affect.
Diagnosis of pituitary tumors begins with a physical examination and neurological evaluation, and may also include an eye exam, blood tests, and urinalysis. An MRI or CT scan will be performed, and a sample of blood may be taken from the veins leaving the gland. Once a tumor is confirmed, a biopsy may be performed to extract a small sample of tissue for further analysis. Biopsies can aid in determining the best treatment approach to use.
Many pituitary tumors can be surgically removed using one of the several approaches. Radiation may also be used to destroy the tumor cells, and drug therapy may be prescribed to control the overproduction of hormones in some types of functioning tumors. The treatment approach used will depend on the size and location of the tumor, whether it’s functional or non-functional, whether the tumor has spread to other areas, whether the tumor is new or recurrent, and other factors.
Click here to read several articles written by Dr. Appley and others about the pituitary gland and tumors in a 2003 IRSA BrainTalk newsletter.