To determine if someone has a pituitary tumor, we conduct a physical exam and use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include:
Biopsy: Rarely, a physician or surgeon may need to use a fine needle to draw a small amount of tissue from the pituitary gland, or make a small incision to remove a sample of the tissue, and study it under a microscope.
Blood tests: Blood tests check for certain abnormal levels of hormones associated with the pituitary gland which can indicate a tumor.
Computerized tomography (CT) scan: This test uses X-rays and computers to create images of the brain and pituitary gland. Sometimes, a patient will be injected with contrast dye to make abnormalities easier to see.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This test uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to produce images of the brain and pituitary gland.
The cause of most pituitary tumors is unknown.
Risk factors that may contribute to pituitary tumors include:
Genetics: A small percentage of pituitary tumors run in families.
Hereditary conditions: Certain hereditary conditions, such as multiple endocrine neoplasia, type I (MEN I), come with an increased risk of pituitary tumors.
There is no known way to prevent pituitary tumors.
If diagnosed early, the prognosis for pituitary tumors is often excellent. If there is a delay in diagnosis, even a non-functioning tumor can cause problems if the tumor grows large enough to press on the optic nerves, brain or the carotid arteries.
Treatment and Recovery
Treatment of pituitary tumors may include:
Some medications can help block excess hormone production or even shrink certain tumors.
If the tumor isn’t causing problems and was discovered on a scan, the physician may just recommend regular follow-up tests to determine if the tumor is growing and choose to delay treatment unless symptoms appear.
This treatment uses high-energy radiation directed to the tumor to destroy it, and it may be used with surgery or in cases where surgical removal isn’t possible.
Replacement of Pituitary Hormones
Sometimes, a pituitary tumor or the surgery to remove it can decrease hormone production. Some people will be prescribed replacement hormones to maintain normal levels.
If a tumor is overproducing certain hormones or pressing on the optic nerve or an artery, surgical removal may be necessary. In some cases, the surgeon can remove the tumor through a person’s nose and sinuses without making an external incision. For larger or more complicated tumors, the surgeon will make an incision in the scalp and remove the tumor through the upper part of the skull.
Pituitary tumors can cause complications including:
Blindness: If a tumor puts too much pressure on the optic nerve, gradual vision loss can occur.
Diabetes insipidus: This occurs when the pituitary gland and the gland above it, the hypothalamus, don’t produce enough vasopressin – a hormone that helps the body maintain water balance. Sufferers experience constant thirst and frequent urination.
Permanent hormone imbalance: Some people require replacement therapy for depleted hormones.
Pituitary apoplexy: This is sudden bleeding inside the pituitary tumor. It can cause severe headache, paralysis of the eye muscles, low blood pressure and behavioral changes and typically needs immediate treatment—either with corticosteroids or surgery.
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