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Pituitary Tumors

What is Pituitary Tumors?

Pierre Marie, a French neurologist (Salpetriere Hospital, Paris) was the first to describe a disease that involved the pituitary gland. In 1886, he studied 2 patients with clinical findings of what he termed acromegaly and postulated that the pituitary gland was involved in the pathogenesis.

Pituitary tumors are tumors found in the pituitary gland, a small organ about the size of a pea in the center of the brain just above the back of the nose. The pituitary gland makes hormones that affect the growth and the functions of other glands in the body.

Pituitary tumors that grow from gland tissue (adenomas) and tumors that occur in children and adolescents (craniopharyngiomas) are the most common types. They are usually benign and spread slowly. Even malignant tumors rarely spread to other areas of the body. However, as a result of these tumors, there is a possibility of any one of more than a dozen pituitary diseases occurring.

Causes of Pituitary Tumors

The cause of pituitary tumors is not known, but may be genetic.

Signs & Symptoms of Pituitary Tumors

Symptoms related to tumor location, size, and pressure on neighboring structures include:

  • persistent headache on one or both sides, or in the center of the forehead
  • blurred or double vision; loss of peripheral vision
  • drooping eyelid caused by pressure on nerves leading to the eye
  • seizures

Each individual also experiences symptoms differently, and the symptoms many resemble other conditions or medical problems. Consult a physician for diagnosis.

Diagnostic Tests

Skull X-rays with tomography may show an enlarged sella turcica or erosion of its floor. If growth hormone secretion predominates, X-ray findings show enlarged paranasal sinuses and mandible, thickened cranial bones, and separated teeth.

Carotid angiography may identify displacement of the anterior cerebral and internal carotid arteries from tumor enlargement. This study can also rule out an intracerebral aneurysm.

A computed tomography scan may confirm an adenoma and accurately depict its size. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis may disclose increased protein levels. Endocrine function tests mayor may not contribute helpful information. In many cases, results are ambiguous and inconclusive. Magnetic resonance imaging differentiates healthy, benign, and malignant tissues and blood vessels.


Pituitary tumors are best treated when they are found and diagnosed early. Treatments for pituitary tumors include surgical removal of the tumor; radiation therapy, using high-doses of x-rays to kill tumor cells; and/or drug therapy, using certain medications to block the pituitary gland from producing too many hormones. The most common treatment is surgery.

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