Small pituitary tumors can lead to big health changes

Your pituitary gland, a pea-sized organ in your brain and behind your nose, produces hormones that affect many aspects of your health from your growth to your immune system.

Sometimes, for no known reason, a tumor can grow on your pituitary gland. Though most pituitary tumors are benign (not cancerous), they can still affect your health because of their location near your brain and optic nerves (the nerves that connect your eyes and brain). Tumors that grow too big can cause vision problems. Some tumors also cause your body to make too much of certain hormones, which can have many complications.

Different tumors cause different side effects

The side effects you experience depend on the type of pituitary tumor you have. Since side effects can be very different and look like other health problems, only your doctor can diagnose a pituitary tumor. Different types of tumors and their side effects include:

  • Null cell adenomas – These tumors don't produce hormones, so they don't cause any symptoms unless they grow large. If they do become large, you may have headaches or vision problems.
  • Prolactinomas – These tumors produce prolactin hormones, which can cause women to have breast milk and irregular periods. In men, prolactin can lead to erectile dysfunction and bigger breasts.
  • Growth hormone-producing tumors – These growth hormones encourage growth that doesn't typically occur in adults. The growth can cause joint pain, a change in how your face looks and a change in size of your head, hands or feet.
  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone-producing tumors –These tumors slow down your metabolism and hurt your immune system. They cause strange symptoms, such as fat in your face and upper body, thinness in your arms and legs, high blood pressure and purple-colored stretch marks.
  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone-producing tumors – These tumors lead to hyperthyroidism, causing you to lose weight, have a fast heart rate, feel hot, go to the bathroom frequently and/or have a lump on your neck.

Precise treatment for pituitary tumors

Pituitary tumors can be carefully removed by experienced neurosurgeons. Advances in neurosurgery now allow pituitary tumors to be removed through your nose without any external incisions (called neuroendoscopy). These surgeries are faster than other neurosurgeries and have far fewer risks.

If your pituitary tumor is cancerous, you may need radiation therapy to kill the cancer cells. Radiation therapy uses precisely targeted, high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells in the tumor and shrink the tumor. Special types of radiation therapy, including stereotactic radiosurgery, cause less harm to healthy cells and are more convenient because they take fewer treatment sessions.

Medicine alone might be enough to help you if your tumor is small and produces too much growth hormone. Some medicines can stop your tumor from making too much growth hormone, eliminating your side effects without surgery.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.