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Pituitary Tumors Frequently Asked Questions

The UW Health Pituitary Tumor Clinic in Madison, Wisconsin offers patients advanced techniques in diagnosis, planning and treatment for pituitary tumors.
 
Use the questions below to learn more about pituitary tumors.
 
What is the pituitary?
 
The pituitary is a small organ about the size of a pea in the center of the brain just above the back of the nose. This gland is also referred to as the "master gland" because it controls other glands in the body. The pituitary gland is made up of two different parts. The front part secretes hormones which regulate other glands, and the back part secretes hormones which control urination and induce labor. Hormones are substances secreted by a gland and exercising action somewhere else on the body.

What is a pituitary tumor?
 
A pituitary tumor is a growth that is located in the pituitary gland and it is made up of abnormal pituitary cells. Pituitary tumors are almost always benign (non-cancerous). Pituitary tumors may or may not secrete hormones.

Can you see or feel a pituitary tumor?
 
No, you cannot see or feel a pituitary tumor. Pituitary tumors are located within the base of the skull and sometimes can extend into the surrounding structures. Many pituitary tumors press against the optic nerves, causing vision problems.
 
What are possible pituitary tumor symptoms?
 
Below you will find a list of possible symptoms for specific kinds of pituitary tumors. Of course, there are other causes for each symptom, so please consult your physician if you have any of these.
  • For prolactinoma pituitary tumors:
    • Infertility
    • Amenorrhea (absence of menses or menstrual periods)
    • Oligomenorrhea (irregular/sparse menstruation)
    • Decreased libido (interest in sex)
    • Galactorrhea (breast milk production/leakage/nipple discharge)
    • Impotence
    • Vaginal dryness (painful intercourse)
    • Visual loss
  • For acromegaly (growth hormone secreting adenoma):
    • Sleep apnea
    • Hand, foot, face or tongue growth or enlargement, swelling (soft tissue enlargement)
    • Coarsening of facial features
    • Change in ring or shoe size
    • Spreading teeth, bite difficulties (overbite/underbite)
    • Carpal tunnel syndrome
    • Joint and bone aches, pains and tenderness (including foot and tooth pain)
    • Gigantism
    • Excessive sweating
    • Oily skin
    • Impotence
  • For Cushing's disease (ACTH secreting adenoma):
    • Fat build-up in the face (round or moon face), back (characteristically the upper back causing a so-called buffalo hump) and chest, while the arms and legs become relatively thin
    • Hyperglycemia/diabetes (too much sugar in the blood)
    • Weak and fragile muscles and bones
    • Backache
    • Flushed (red) face
    • Thin skin
    • Increased bruising or bruisability
    • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
    • Weight gain
    • Skin striae (stretch marks)
    • Mood swings
    • Excess hair growth
    • Osteoporosis rib and vertebral compression fractures
  • For all pituitary tumors and craniopharyngiomas:
    • Headache
    • Decreased libido (interest/desire in sex)
    • Menstrual disorders
    • Cold intolerance
    • Excessive perspiration (sweating)
    • Decreased appetite
    • Vision impairment, blurriness, blindness (particularly poor peripheral vision)
    • Excessive thirst and frequent urination
    • Growth failure
    • Delayed or premature puberty
    • Nausea
    • Dry skin
    • Constipation
    • Fatigue
    • Low or high blood pressure
    • Frequent urination (diabetes insipidus)

How is a pituitary tumor treated?

 

There are a variety of options for treatment of a pituitary tumor. UW Health provides the following options:

  • Trans-sphenoidal craniotomy for pituitary tumors: This minimally-invasive surgical approach is done with a microscope through the nose. Patients are cared for by a multidisciplinary team that includes neurosurgeons, endocrinologists, neuro-ophthalmologists and radiation oncologists.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery: Stereotactic radiosurgery delivers high-dose radiation to a small area in the brain, usually in one treatment. The radiation can be given to the abnormal area while the surrounding normal brain tissue receives only a small dose of radiation. This procedure is also referred to as Gamma Knife or Linac Scalpel, depending on the device used.
  • Fractionated stereotactic radiotherapy: Fractionated stereotactic radiotherapy (FSRT) allows for very precise delivery of radiation to the brain and has a greater ability to shape the radiation beams. The radiation is given over several treatments since the treatment is split into a number of smaller doses (fractions) of radiation. Fractionation is used to improve the radiation effect on the tumor while reducing the effect of radiation on the normal brain tissue.
  • Medical treatment: Prolactin secreting tumors generally respond well to medication. Some of the other tumors may also respond to medical treatment.