Pituitary Tumors

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What are pituitary tumors?

A pituitary tumor is an abnormal growth of cells within the pituitary gland.

The pituitary gland is a small, bean-sized gland located at the base of the brain below the hypothalamus. The pituitary gland controls a system of hormones in the body that regulate growth, metabolism, the stress response, and functions of the sex organs via the thyroid gland, adrenal gland, ovaries, and testes.

Most pituitary tumors are benign, which means they are non-cancerous, grow slowly, and do not spread to other parts of the body. However, the tumors can make the pituitary gland produce either too many or too few hormones, which can cause a variety of problems in the body. Symptoms largely depend upon the hormone affected and may include:

  • Headaches
  • Vision problems
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Pituitary hormones that impact the sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, can make a woman produce breast milk even though she is not pregnant or nursing, or cause a man to lose his sex drive or lower his sperm count. 

Pituitary tumors often go undiagnosed because their symptoms resemble those of so many other more common diseases.

Generally, treatment depends on the tumor's type and size, whether it has invaded or pressed on surrounding structures, such as the brain and visual pathways, and the individual's age and overall health. Three types of treatment are used:

  1. Surgical removal of the tumor
  2. Radiation therapy, in which high-dose x-rays are used to kill the tumor cells
  3. Drug therapy to shrink or destroy the tumor

Medications also are sometimes used to block the tumor from overproducing hormones. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to a good prognosis.

Learn About Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are studies that allow us to learn more about disorders and improve care. They can help connect patients with new and upcoming treatment options.

How can I or my loved one help improve care for people with pituitary tumors?

Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about pituitary tumor and related disorders. Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.

All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.

For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with pituitary tumor at Clinicaltrials.gov.

Where can I find more information about pituitary tumors?

Information may be available from the following resources:

Order publications from the NINDS Catalog
The NINDS Publication Catalog offers printed materials on neurological disorders for patients, health professionals, and the general public. All materials are free of charge, and a downloadable PDF version is also available for most publications.