Pituitary Tumors

Last Editorial Review: 12/16/2004

What are the Pituitary Tumors?

Pituitary tumors are abnormal growths found in the pituitary gland, a small organ--about the size of a dime and located in the center of the brain--which makes hormones that affect growth and the functions of other glands in the body. Most pituitary tumors are benign, which means they are non-cancerous, grow slowly and do not spread to other parts of the body. A pituitary tumor may make the pituitary gland produce too many hormones, which can cause other problems in the body. Tumors that make hormones are called functioning tumors, while those that do not make hormones are called non-functioning tumors. Certain pituitary tumors cause Cushing's disease in which fat builds up in the face, back and chest, and the arms and legs to become very thin. Other pituitary tumors can cause acromegaly, a condition in which the hands, feet and face are larger than normal. Another type of tumor can cause breasts to make milk even though there is no pregnancy. Symptoms of pituitary tumors may include headaches, vision problems, nausea and vomiting, or any of the problems caused by the production of too many hormones such as infertility or loss of menstrual periods in women, abnormal growth, high blood pressure, heat or cold intolerance, and other skin and body changes.

Is there any treatment for pituitary tumors?

Pituitary tumors are best treated when they are found and diagnosed early. Treatments for pituitary tumors include surgical removal of the tumor; radiation therapy, using high-doses of x-rays to kill tumor cells; and/or drug therapy, using certain medications to block the pituitary gland from producing too many hormones. The most common treatment is surgery.

What is the prognosis for pituitary tumors?

Although prognosis depends on the type of pituitary tumor and the patient's age and general state of health, pituitary tumors are usually curable.

What research is being done on pituitary tumors?

The NINDS (National Institute of Neurological Disorders) supports and conducts a broad range of biomedical research on brain tumors, including pituitary tumors. Much of this research is aimed at discovering the cause(s) of brain tumors, finding better treatments, and ultimately preventing and curing them.

Source: National Institutes of Health (www.nih.gov)

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