Pituitary Tumors

More than 10,000 pituitary tumors are diagnosed every year, according to the American Cancer Society. These tumors, caused by abnormal growths of cells, are typically benign adenomas that grow slowly.

Although they are not cancer, some pituitary tumors can cause harm because they compress and damage normal pituitary tissue, interfering with hormone production. Other tumors can produce a hormone in excess. Therefore, pituitary tumors can result in excess or reduced levels of hormones—which can cause problems throughout the body.

Pituitary tumors can cause an assortment of symptoms based on the hormones they affect. Thus, diagnosis of pituitary disease is often challenging and requires a team skilled and experienced in this area.

In diagnosing what could be a pituitary problem, our team of experts will take a complete medical history and do a physical examination. Tests may include:

  • Measurement of hormones in the blood and/or urine
  • Neuroendocrine suppression or stimulation testing
  • CT or MRI scans
  • Vision testing
  • X-rays
  • Petrosal sinus sampling (similar to an angiogram)

Based on the results of the tests, our team will work with you to develop a treatment plan that addresses the associated tumor and the symptoms it is causing. It may include medication management, pituitary surgery, or radiation therapy.

Adrenocorticotropic (ACTH)-Producing Tumors

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-producing tumors cause the pituitary gland to secrete increased amounts of ACTH, stimulating an overproduction of cortisol from the adrenal glands. This pituitary condition, known as Cushing's disease, causes a variety of symptoms and physical changes, including:

  • Easy bruising
  • Facial roundness and redness
  • Loss of hair on the head and more hair growth on the face and body in women
  • Muscle loss, resulting in thinning of the arms and legs
  • Skin may become fragile and thin, with red stretch marks
  • Weight gain, often in the abdomen, upper back, and neck

Other risks from Cushing’s disease include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Diabetes mellitus (high blood sugar)
  • High blood pressure
  • Loss of bone, leading to osteoporosis
  • Poor concentration and memory

Growth Hormone Tumors

Representing about 20 percent of pituitary adenomas, according to the American Brain Tumor Association, growth hormone tumors produce excess growth hormone, which results in a condition known as acromegaly. Many of these tumors are greater than 1 cm in size, called “macroadenomas,” and can result in loss of peripheral vision and reduced levels of the normal pituitary hormones.

Physical changes caused by this tumor occur gradually and can include:

  • Broadening of the brow and nose
  • Changes in the jaw/bite
  • Enlarging of the hands and feet
  • Excessive sweating
  • Oily skin

Other risks from acromegaly include:

  • Colon polyps
  • Diabetes mellitus (high blood sugar)
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea

In children, growth hormone tumors may cause gigantism, which results in abnormal growth in muscles, bones, and other connective tissues.

Non-Functioning Tumors

Representing about 25 percent of pituitary adenomas, according to the American Brain Tumor Association, non-functioning tumors grow slowly and cause few symptoms. As a result, they can grow to a large size before they are even detected. These “silent” tumors can put pressure on the optic nerves causing visual changes and headaches. They can also compress the pituitary gland to the point where it cannot function properly, thereby leading to hypopituitarism – reductions in some of all of the normal pituitary hormones.

Prolactin Tumors

Prolactin-producing tumors (prolactinomas) account for about half of pituitary adenomas. They can cause a decrease in normal levels of estrogen in women and testosterone in men. Men may experience enlarged breasts and decreased body hair, erectile dysfunction or impotence, infertility, and loss of interest in sexual activity. Women may experience irregular or lack of menstrual periods, infertility, and inappropriate breast milk production, as well as an increased risk for osteoporosis.

Thyroid-Simulating (TSH) Tumors

TSH-secreting tumors are the rarest of the pituitary tumors. These tumors cause an overproduction of TSH, which stimulates the thyroid glands to make too much thyroxine, causing hyperthyroidism. This condition accelerates the metabolism and can result in a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue, coupled with difficulty sleeping
  • Heat intolerance and excessive sweating
  • Increased bowel movements or diarrhea
  • Light or absent menstrual periods
  • Nervousness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Tremors
  • Weight loss

Contact Us

Pituitary Care and Research Center
Phone: 212-241-3422
Fax: 212-423-0508