Trusted medical advice from the
American Academy of Family Physicians.

Pituitary Tumors

What is a pituitary tumor?

The pituitary gland is located at the base of your brain. It is about the size of a pea and shaped like a bean. It produces key hormones that control other glands in your body. A tumor can form in your pituitary gland. Typically, it is benign and will not lead to cancer. This is known as a pituitary adenoma. It is rare to have a pituitary carcinoma, which is cancerous.

Symptoms of a pituitary tumor

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), up to 20% of people have pituitary tumors. Only 1/3 of them have symptoms or health problems. Almost all of these tumors occur in adults.

Common symptoms can include:

  • headaches
  • changes in vision
  • nausea and vomiting
  • changes in menstrual cycle, in women.

You also can have a range of problems from the hormonal imbalance. A functioning tumor is overactive. It produces too much of one or more hormones. This can lead to other health conditions, depending on the hormones. Examples include endocrine diseases, such as diabetes, and hyperthyroidism. A nonfunctioning tumor is underactive. It slows or prevents hormone production, which also causes problems.

What causes a pituitary tumor?

A pituitary tumor forms from an abnormal growth of cells. This can be caused by genetic and/or hormonal defects.

How is a pituitary tumor diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a physical exam and review your health history. They also can perform a variety of tests.

  • Eye test: Checks your vision for any changes.
  • Neurological test: Checks your body function, reflexes, and more.
  • Blood or urine test: Checks your hormone levels.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Gets an image of your brain using radio waves.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: Gets an image of your brain using X-rays.
  • Biopsy: Checks for cancer by removing a sample of cells from your pituitary gland.

Can a pituitary tumor be prevented or avoided?

You cannot prevent or avoid having a pituitary tumor.

Pituitary tumor treatment

There are several kinds of treatment. Ask your doctor which one is best for you. It will depend on your type of tumor and which hormones it affects.

  • Medicine to balance your hormone levels.
  • Surgery to remove the tumor.
  • Radiation therapy to kill the tumor cells using X-rays.
  • Chemotherapy to kill the tumor cells using medicine. This can be in the form of pills or injection.

Living with a pituitary tumor

Treatment often cures a pituitary tumor. You may need treatment more than once if it returns. You may have lasting effects that also require treatment. This will depend on your symptoms and when the tumor is found.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Will my pituitary tumor cause related health problems?
  • What is the best type of treatment for me?
  • Will my tumor or the treatment affect my ability to conceive a baby?
  • What are the chances of getting another tumor once the first one is removed?
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