Dr. Kamal Thapar, MD., PhD., FRCSC., FAANS
1200 Oakleaf Way, Suite A, Altoona, WI 54720
A pituitary tumor is an abnormal growth within the pituitary gland, which is located within the base of the brain. The pituitary gland is known as the “master gland” because it controls many endocrine functions of the body. Generally, pituitary tumors are benign growths and do not spread to other parts of the body.
The exact cause of pituitary tumors is unknown. Some pituitary tumors do tend to run in families, but there is no genetic link identified at this time. However, individuals with multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN – type 1 – a group of disorders affecting the glandular system) are at an increased risk for developing a pituitary tumor.
The pituitary gland is responsible for hormone regulation within the body. Due to the function of the pituitary gland, patients with a pituitary tumor often manifest symptoms related to abnormal levels of hormones within the body.
– Loss of body hair
– Sexual dysfunction
– Unintentional weight gain or loss
– Menstrual irregularities
– Visual changes
– In some instances, the symptoms are a result of excess hormone production. These include prolactinomas, Cushing’s disease, and acromegaly.
An MRI of the brain is used to confirm the diagnosis of a pituitary tumor, and to identify the size and exact location of any tumor found. It will also be important to get blood work to evaluate hormone levels within the body, as these can be too low or too high due to a pituitary tumor. It may also be necessary to refer the patient for eye tests to find out if the optic nerve has been affected by the tumor.
Generally, the treatment of pituitary tumors requires a team of specialists including an endocrinologist and neurosurgeon. Depending on the type of hormones produced by the tumor, the size of the tumor, and its effect of the nerves to the eye, surgery may be necessary. In some cases (such as prolactinomas) the tumors can shrink with medications. In other cases, medications will be ineffective and surgery will be required. Finally, there are some pituitary tumors that produce no symptoms and these can be carefully watched.