Pituitary Tumours

The pituitary gland lies in a small hollow, just behind the eyes. It secretes hormones to regulate growth and control most of the other hormone based systems in the body. Pituitary tumours are abnormal growths that develop in your pituitary gland. Some pituitary tumours result in too many of the hormones that regulate important functions of your body. Some pituitary tumours can cause your pituitary gland to produce lower levels of hormones. They are noncancerous (benign) growths (adenomas). Adenomas remain in your pituitary gland or surrounding tissues and don’t spread to other parts of your body.

There are various options for treating pituitary tumours, including removing the tumour, controlling its growth and managing your hormone levels with medications. In cases where the pituitary tumour is of significant size or is in direct contact with the optic nerves, surgery may be the initial treatment method to ‘debulk’ the tumour before treating the remaining tumour with Gamma Knife.

Symptoms

Some pituitary tumours can exist for years without causing symptoms and some will never produce symptoms. People with a pituitary gland tumour may experience the following symptoms or signs.

  • Vision problems
  • Headaches
  • Changes in menstrual cycles in women
  • Impotence, which is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection in men and is caused by hormone changes
  • Infertility, meaning the inability to have children
  • Inappropriate production of breast milk
  • Cushing’s syndrome, a combination of weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, and easy bruising
  • Acromegaly, the enlargement of the extremities or limbs and thickening of the skull and jaw caused by too much growth hormone
  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Mood changes
  • Irritability

A pituitary tumour causes symptoms in three different ways,

  • By producing too much of one or more hormones.
  • By pressing on the pituitary gland, causing it to make too little of one or more hormones. By producing too much of one or more hormones.
  • By pressing on the optic nerves or, less commonly, the nerves controlling eye movements, and causing either loss of part or all of a person’s sight, or double vision.

What are the causes

Most pituitary tumours occur in people with no family history of pituitary problems and the condition is not usually passed on from generation to generation. Only very occasionally are tumours inherited – for example, in a condition known as multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN1).

How common are pituitary tumours

About 8 out of 100 (8%) of brain tumours are in the pituitary gland.

Diagnosis

Pituitary tumours are usually found when a person goes to the doctor because of symptoms they are having. But sometimes these tumours don’t cause symptoms, and they are found by medical tests done for other health problems. If your symptoms lead your doctor to believe that you might have a pituitary tumour, the first step is take a complete medical history to check for risk factors and to learn more about your symptoms he or she might order:

  • Blood and urine tests.These can determine whether you have an overproduction or deficiency of hormones.
  • Brain imaging.A CT scan or MRI scan of your brain can help your doctor judge the location and size of a pituitary tumour.
  • Vision testing.This can determine if a pituitary tumour has impaired your sight or peripheral vision.

Further information

Further information and a support helpline is avaiable from: