What is Pituitary Cancer?
The pea-sized pituitary gland is located behind the eyes and below the front of the brain. This small gland creates hormones that control body organs and affect growth, blood pressure, sexual function, heart rate and stress. Pituitary gland tumors develop from abnormal tissue growth and most are noncancerous. Pituitary cancer is very rare.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with cancer and the diagnosis, treatment and management of pituitary cancer. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
Pituitary tumors are slow growing and often do not produce symptoms in the early stages. These tumors can cause the pituitary gland to not work properly or to produce more hormones than necessary. Pituitary tumors can also cause other glands to make hormones that can affect other parts of the body. In addition, pituitary tumors can put pressure on the brain or the optic nerves. Symptoms can include:
- Vision problems
- Frequent headaches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slowed growth in children
- Menstrual changes
- Erectile dysfunction
To diagnose if someone has pituitary cancer, a physician will perform a physical exam, ask about medical history and check vision. We also use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include:
Blood and urine tests: These tests check for growth hormones or other substances that can indicate a cancerous tumor is present.
Imaging tests: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help to locate and determine the size of a cancerous pituitary tumor. If needed, dye is injected through a vein to create contrast for a clearer view of the pituitary gland. Other imaging studies may include a computerized tomography (CT) scan.
The cause of pituitary cancer is unknown. In rare cases, cancer in another part of the body can spread to the pituitary gland and cause a cancerous tumor to develop.
Heredity: Certain genetic conditions like multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1, carney complex and familial acromegaly can increase the risk of pituitary tumors.
There is no known way to prevent pituitary cancer.
The prognosis for pituitary cancer depends on its type, size and if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. An early diagnosis and treatment may provide the best outcome for pituitary cancer.
Treatment and Recovery
Treatment of pituitary cancer depends upon its type, size and the person’s age and may include:
Many pituitary tumors can be removed by surgery. Radiation and chemotherapy are typically prescribed following surgery to remove pituitary cancer to relieve symptoms and to kill remaining cancer cells.
Recovery After Surgery
Most hospital stays after surgery last one to two days. At home, recovery may take up to a month. Medications may be prescribed for headache and swelling. Your doctor will provide directions about what activities must be limited and for how long.
After surgery for pituitary cancer, or if cancer has spread elsewhere in the body, this treatment uses a high-energy beam of radiation directed to the pituitary gland to kill cancer cells.
Special drugs designed to kill cancer cells can be given as a pill or injected into the bloodstream.
Pituitary cancer can recur and spread to other areas of the body. Other complications can include:
- Permanent hormone deficiency after removal of the pituitary gland
- Vision problems
- Diabetes insipidus
Next Steps with MyChart
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