Ask the Experts
Dr. Kravets: A pituitary tumor is an abnormal growth of cells in the pituitary gland, which is a small, pea-sized organ located in the center of the brain, behind the nose and eyes. The pituitary is a “master gland” of the body; it produces many hormones that control other endocrine glands and certain functions of the body.
Are they mostly benign or malignant?
Dr. Davis: Most pituitary tumors are benign (non-cancerous). However, because of the location of the pituitary gland at the base of the skull, pituitary tumors can cause problems since they grow upward. Eventually some will press against the area where the optic nerves intersect, causing vision problems. They can also cause hormonal imbalance.
What causes pituitary tumors?
Dr. Kravets: No one knows for sure what causes pituitary tumors. About one to five percent of pituitary tumors occur within families. Most are not inherited, however there are certain, rare, inherited conditions such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN 1), that carry a higher risk of pituitary tumors.
What are the different types of pituitary tumors?
Dr. Davis: Adenomas are benign tumors that develop on the pituitary gland behind the eyes. These tumors can change levels in hormone production or cause vision loss. Craniopharyngiomas are benign tumors that develop at the base of the brain where it meets the pituitary gland. They commonly affect children 5 to 10 years of age, but adults can sometimes be affected in their 50s and 60s.
What are the symptoms?
Dr. Kravets: Symptoms vary depending on the type and size of a pituitary tumor but not all pituitary tumors cause symptoms. Many pituitary tumors are not diagnosed until symptoms appear. Some pituitary tumors are found incidentally on brain imaging obtained for a reason unrelated to the pituitary. Certain symptoms may develop when pituitary tumors grow so large that they exert pressure on surrounding structures. Such symptoms include:
• Changes in vision (particularly loss of peripheral/outer edge vision)
Other symptoms are related to either deficiency or excessive production of certain hormones. Common symptoms caused by such hormonal disturbances include:
• Menstrual cycle changes (irregular or lack of menstrual periods
• Erectile dysfunction or loss of sex drive
• Weight changes
• Production of breast milk by a woman who has not given birth
• Accelerated or stunted growth in a child or teenager
• Growth of the hands, feet, forehead and jaw in adults
• Development of a round face, a hump between the shoulders or both
How is a pituitary tumor diagnosed?
Dr. Kravets: An endocrinologist will ask you about the symptoms you are experiencing, and about your personal and family health history. He or she will perform a physical exam and order tests of your blood and urine. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or computerized tomography (CT or CAT) scan may also be ordered to obtain detailed images of the brain and the pituitary gland. In rare instances, a biopsy (surgical procedure to remove a small sample of the tumor for examination) is required.
What treatments are available?
Dr. Davis: Treatments may include surgery, radiation therapy or medication. Transsphenoidal surgery is surgery performed through the nose and sphenoid sinus (located in the very back part of the nose, just beneath the base of the brain) to remove a pituitary tumor. It can be performed with an endoscope, microscope or both and is a team effort between neurosurgeons and ear, nose and throat (otolaryngology/ENT) surgeons. Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill the tumor cells and is recommended when surgery is not an option, if the pituitary tumor remains, or if the tumor causes symptoms that are not relieved by medicine.
Why choose Stony Brook?
Dr. Kravets: Our Pituitary Care Center provides access to all of the coordinated expert care you need in one location, close to home — which can make the course of your treatment easier. Our team includes specialists from endocrinology, neurosurgery, otolaryngology (ENT), radiation oncology, neuropathology, neuroradiology, neuro-ophthalmology, and patient education and support.
To make an appointment with one of our Pituitary Care Center endocrinologists, call
(631) 444-0580. To make an appointment with one of our Pituitary Care Center neurosurgeons,
call (631) 444-1213. To learn more, visit stonybrookmedicine.edu/pituitary.
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